Work in the City? Here’s How to Work Smarter (Not Longer)
BY ALLISON TANENHAUS
App this, instant that. Plugged-in city life is unquestionably efficient for getting places and getting things—and as soon as humanly possible. But what about getting things done, particularly in the urban workplace? Perhaps not as efficient as you might think.
In a recent survey conducted by Zipcar, more urban workers than rural workers reported working longer than eight hours a day. And here’s the kicker: 43% of urban workers reported wasting one or more hours a day, while just 35% of rural workers do the same.
We know you wouldn’t ever waste time at work. But juuuuust in case, we asked two non-profit executives—both Z4B (Zipcar for Business) clients—how they equip their city employees to fight distractions and work smarter, not longer. (Want more tips on fostering a productive and happy workplace? Check out Zipcar’s latest whitepaper, The 5 Habits of Happier, More Productive Workplaces, developed in partnership with productivity expert Chris Bailey.)
What does working smarter, not longer, mean to you?
Jill Page, Manager, Communications, Branding and Community Engagement, Ronald McDonald House Charities Hamilton: Working smarter, not longer, is always at the forefront of our minds here at the House. Our office is a unique environment in that we work where our families live. Our team is constantly reminded that anything can happen—and interruptions are frequent—so prioritizing our tasks is a must in order to ensure everything gets completed in a timely manner. And we don’t have to stay late to make that happen.
Zachary (Zack) Tobler, Assistant Director of Corporate Partnerships, Friendship Place: It means using what time I have more effectively—to be more focused on the task at hand so I can accomplish what needs to get done.
How do you cultivate a workplace culture where working smarter, not longer, is rewarded?
JP: We have a “come and go as you need” policy here at the House. If you are getting your work done (and doing it well), then you are free to leave early on Friday, come in late, take a long lunch—whatever you need to do to make you happy and keep your work/home life balance.
ZT: With my team, I try to push a "work smarter, not harder" mentality. This means prioritizing tasks and accomplishing what you can do. And if issues or problems arise, it means addressing them as soon as possible to mitigate any problems that might come up.
How would you describe your workplace’s work/life balance? What factors contribute to it?
JP: Work/home life balance is terrific at RMHC Hamilton. We work with very difficult situations and our business is 24 hours/7 days a week—so sometimes it is hard to remove yourself from work. We have our come and go as you need policy, are allowed to work from home, and offer numerous compassion-fatigue seminars to ensure our staff isn’t putting themselves all in at work and leaving nothing for home.
Jill Page (left) from Ronald McDonald House Hamilton finds daily motivation from the families the House helps. Image courtesy of Ronald McDonald House Hamilton.
What distractions does your urban workforce face?
JP: Traffic. A lot of our staff commute into the office and whenever there is bad traffic or weather, the staff start to panic about making it home on time or not sitting in the car for hours. It can definitely become a big distraction for those employees who have a far drive ahead of them, but we try to encourage our staff to be safe. Leave early, work from home, etc.
ZT: There is so much to do in a city that a more rural/suburb region lacks. For the most part, the people at Friendship Place live within the beltway region. For those who live further away, I have not heard of any real problems with time management.
What do you do to help employees (and yourself!) stay engaged and productive throughout the day?
JP: Distractions are a natural occurrence in our office. Those employees with offices at the front of the House are also encouraged to have their doors open so that if a family needs something, there is always someone available. We don’t ask staff to avoid distractions, but encourage them to be proactive in planning their days and making sure that top priority tasks get completed in a timely manner.
ZT: For myself, I try to get up once every hour or so to stretch my legs and get some fresh air to clear my head.
What have you found motivates your employees?
JP: Working in the house where our families live definitely influences our employees. When you see the direct results of your hard work in the lives of others, it motivates you to work harder and be better.
ZT: To motivate my employees, I make them feel valued and that their work is important to the organization—that what they do is making a difference in people’s lives. Sadly, there aren’t any structured break activities here at Friendship Place. I believe if we had more of this, there would be increased worker satisfaction.
Zack Tobler (center) helps to represent Friendship House at Friendship Walks 2014. Photo by David Moss Photography; image courtesy of Friendship Place.
Do you have any structured times or activities for taking a break? How do employees benefit?
JP: Every day is different, but we try to have lunch as a team every day to catch up on what has been happening in work and life. It gives us a break from our desks and helps with team building.
How has collaboration either helped or hindered distractions?
JP: Collaboration keeps us moving. If we didn’t communicate or seek insights from other departments, we wouldn’t be half as successful as we are. We rely on the experience of our team members to help us because everyone sees a different aspect of what we do and can help bring projects full circle. Distractions are limited when you are collaborating because you don’t want to be the one to let your team down.
ZT: It can go both ways. On simple, fun projects, collaboration can work well. But when it’s a serious event or project, one person needs to be in charge and assign work, as well as manage the project.