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What Constitutes Productive Work-Upending Traditional Thinking & The Hybrid Workplace

The Economist March 19th 2022 pp58 |Business|Bartleby “Loafing can be work” “Daydreaming, promenedating and zoning out all pay rich dividends”

Read The Economist for all the details

Summary by 2244

This is an interesting brief bringing to light some likely unheard phenomenon, some tired ideas and new ideas about what constitutes productive work.

Who knew? “The familiar exerts a powerful subliminal appeal” we might all agree but did you know that there’s a “name-letter” effect-a subconscious bias that we prefer “careers, partners and brands that start with ...[our own]... initials?” We also underestimate travel time when using our preferred, familiar or commonly-used routes.

As it is, the familiar has a bias at work as well. Some of these we would agree hands down are well-established forms of bias-”being at a desk counts as work, as does looking at a screen above a certain size, responding to email and being in a meeting.” Does one get similar credit for the latter activities if they work-from-home (WFH)? We worry that there’s a proximity bias in general and that bias sparks prejudice that “white-collar employees who spend lots of time in the office are more likely to advance” versus those that WFH.

The arguments against such traditional thinking included two key thoughts. First, the act of appearing to do these activities that we generally believe constitute work may be misguided-not all email and keyboard tapping is work-related and often staff are in meetings but “present in body but not in spirit.” Second, what doesn’t look like work-staring at the ceiling, seemingly daydreaming and taking a walking break may actually be more productive in terms of being creative or more productive in connecting-the-dots to find solutions to problems. Research seems to support these ideas about daydreaming etc. and walking AKA “perambulation.”

Firms are now grappling with the structure of the post-pandemic workplace. They are having to rethink the “‘when and “where” question.’” A hybrid work schedule, some in office and some WFH, can improve “retention and avoid burnout” but also allow “individuals to collaborate [in-office or WFH] at times that suit them.” In the end, beware that what appears to be work-may not be productive work and what appears not to be work-maybe productive work.


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