One of the most impactful lessons that have come out of the global pandemic — one that continues to reverberate throughout the business landscape — is that the way we work needs to transform. Knowledge workers haven't been as susceptible to the sudden departures that have come to be known as the Great Resignation, but a demonstrated increase in burnout shows that companies need to rethink how they design days, workplaces, and entire workflow systems.
In a recent episode of his podcast, productivity expert Cal Newport dove deep into the question of what is causing these unprecedented levels of burnout and overwork, and came up with some suggestions for business leaders to improve worker health and satisfaction. There are a number of ways the workplace can be more friendly and in line with the needs of the modern worker, and everyone responsible for those decisions — from the C-suite to human resources and even the IT department — needs to play a role.
Newport advises that knowledge workers follow the evolutionary human trait of feeling rewarded when they make a plan that succeeds. That ability is one of the core skills of knowledge workers who are responsible for designing sales and marketing campaigns to closing business deals or devising long-term investment strategies.
The issue that leads to burnout, he argues, is that each of the plans and objectives tied to our work day comes with a menu of commitments and obligations that can quickly overload our brains' ability to manage and prioritize tasks. For example, if you have a project, you probably need to schedule several meetings, make phone calls, and send emails to gather information. Those small tasks pile up quickly.
"If you increase the number of things on your plate, you are responsible for the amount this overhead begins to grow until it takes over most of your schedule — until most of your work time is actually being dedicated to the meetings that have to happen to touch base on every one of these projects and the back-and-forth emails and phone calls needed to keep each of these projects moving," Newport says.
Newport's endorsement of "slow productivity" lines up with the belief that we become overwhelmed — and, thus, burnt out — when we have too many decisions on the periphery of the work we enjoy directing our talents at. That means doing everything possible to eliminate or greatly reducing the number of eight-hour Zoom days and moving toward a work model where we're only responsible for one or two objectives or deliverables at a time. When we eliminate the obligation overhead, workers do not feel the "short-circuiting" of their planning.
A key to reducing burnout is lessening the obligation overhead that comes with getting a perfectly reasonable, and otherwise satisfying, task done. That can happen a number of ways, but one tactic is making meetings as productive and enjoyable as possible using workplace technology that allows for connection among remote participants. The technology should empower participants to collaborate so meetings feel more productive and less frustrating.
The Sound of Work, for example, is a suite of solutions that can help in designing effective huddle rooms, conference areas, or other workspaces that are welcoming, productivity-minded, and aren't affected by poor connections or quality issues. It includes Bose Professional Videobar VB1, which can bring premium video and sound quality to remote meetings using automatic beam-steering microphones that actively focus on voices and reject noise, avoiding the need to mute every time you're not actively speaking, and a 4K ultra-HD camera that allows you to read a white board in a room, even when you're dialing in remotely.
For workers back in the office, conferencing systems for fully integrated meeting rooms can drastically change the way in which they work. For example, Bose Professional Ceiling Audio Solutions features Bose Professional loudspeakers, a ceiling microphone, an amplifier, and a digital signal processor (DSP) that not only bring intelligibility to any meeting room, but also integrate with video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, making it that much easier for them to connect with workers in any location.
Technology should aim to simplify the lives of workers, not complicate them. Easy-to-use and seamless conferencing solutions will make communication and collaboration feel natural, and setup should be instant, resulting in less time wasted on technical difficulties and more time spent on productive work.
By slotting the right technology solutions into workers' lives and re-evaluating the amount of expected deliverables — with a focus on prioritizing high-value adds and reducing low-value tasks — your knowledge workers will be more productive and experience less stress, which will help avoid the burnout affecting many workers today.