DELIVERING DESIGN AT A DISTANCE #02: Resilience & Ritual - Mindsets for remote working

25 May 2021

The next in our series of Delivering Design at a Distance feature articles explore what can be done to alleviate the cognitive load and resource resilience so that people remain productive and engaged as we ease out of lockdown and enter a new hybrid landscape of work.

DELIVERING DESIGN AT A DISTANCE #02: Resilience & Ritual - Mindsets for remote working

by Alex O'Toole & Jonathan Ball

Business media platforms regularly report research findings that the over-consumption of information is making us unhappy, is bad for our health, and hurts our productivity. 

What, then, can be done to alleviate the cognitive load and resource resilience so that people remain productive and engaged as we ease out of lockdown and enter a new hybrid landscape of work? 

DOWNLOAD & READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t start out as an emotional health crisis, but it quickly morphed into one. Headlines have been dominated by the impact of isolation and loneliness and surges in anxiety, depression, and insomnia across the board.  

Behind these disturbing trends a quieter productivity crisis is gathering momentum. Businesses across the globe are facing a rise in overstretched, exhausted staff, whilst hardworking professional freelancers, well used to the relentless pace and pressure of self-employment and the working from home set up, report increasingly high stress levels with many feeling that they are unable to take any time off because of worries about future periods of little or no work due to the Coronavirus. 

Historically, the weekend acted as a backstop for most of the population in work or education, but during the deep dark days of lockdown life, the weekend lost its edge. Very quickly, time seemed to slow down and life became a never-ending Monday morning, which started with the buzz of an email at 6.30am and ended with a vague realisation that you were still in your pyjamas somewhere in the early hours of the next day, just as the parents juggling home-school, work and childcare were logging online. Now, with the reopening of schools, non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality, the UK’s slow release from lockdown welcomes back the weekend and signals a return to getting fully dressed each morning and the potential of a working day which has some semblance of a beginning and an end. 

A return to the traditional working day and working practices might not be as simple as getting back in the saddle when you’re working remotely.

Yet, with so much disruption to our working lives over the last twelve months, people’s expectations around work, how they fulfil their role, and how they reconcile work and domestic responsibilities may have changed dramatically. A return to the traditional working day and working practices might not be as simple as getting back in the saddle when you’re working remotely.

Without exception, all of the people we spoke to in preparing for the Delivering Design At A Distance series talked about the importance of protecting and cultivating mindsets as a key aspect of remote working. It’s a moot point. As creative facilitators, often locked in a chain of Zoom calls and workshops with colleagues and clients, off record conversations between Jonathan and I often revert to dissecting what all this active listening and information consumption is doing to our brains. Both of us aggrieved that there never seems to enough time between video conference calls to process the information from the first call before needing to download information from the next. 

We know so many colleagues who feel the same. In this digital age, where we’re working minute to minute, ‘infobesity’ is a genuine concern. Business media platforms regularly report research findings that the over-consumption of information is making us unhappy, is bad for our health, and hurts our productivity. 

What, then, can be done to alleviate the cognitive load and resource resilience so that people remain productive and engaged as we ease out of lockdown and enter a new hybrid landscape of work? 

PRODUCTIVITY

In the early days of the pandemic, productivity and efficiency levels plummeted as we got to grips with living, working, and schooling from home. The load on everybody skyrocketed. Working days that started mid-afternoon and continued on well into the evening hours became the norm for many. Even so, in July 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that working from home meant the average person’s working day was only 48.5 minutes longer than it was before the pandemic based on their analysis of a sample of 3.1 million workers across North America, Europe and the Middle East. The researchers compared employee behaviour over two eight-week periods before and after Covid-19 lockdowns. Looking at email and meeting meta-data, the group also calculated the number of meetings increased about 13% and that people sent an average of 1.4 more emails per day to their colleagues. 

94% of the 800 employers surveyed said productivity was the same as or higher than before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.

Twelve months in, a number of studies, including one by Mercer, a HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, pronounced that 94% of the 800 employers surveyed said productivity was the same as or higher than before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely. Clearly the pressure to maintain performance has inspired workforces around the world to rise to the challenges brought by COVID-19, but at what cost? And is any of it bearable in the long term.

LONG TERM EFFECTS

For those new to working remotely from home, the challenge of maintaining boundaries between work and non-work, getting, and staying organized whilst working from home and managing the heightened emotions associated with such work; can be overwhelming, particularly if you are juggling with the demands of young children, or if you live alone and may also be coping with loneliness. In addition, virtual sightlines - made possible by video-conferencing and networked devices being increasingly used by organisations in an effort to keep tabs on their remote workforce - can intensify individual stress through continuous monitoring and feelings of privacy invasion. The effects of virtual working can be felt at a team level too. Whilst navigating traditional teamwork problems, such as conflict and coordination, virtual teams can find that issues escalate quickly, which researchers say is because of the lack of rich communication that is only available to face-to-face teams.

Several studies published over the last few months have highlighted how widespread home working during the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way office workers interact with each other and schedule their day.

ALLEVIATING THE COGNATIVE LOAD

 “People are still struggling with managing and navigating this whole situation,” says Jhumkee Lyengar, a human centred design consultant based in Pune, India. “By virtue of being a small enterprise, you're always stretched. In times like this, it's a struggle, just staying alive. But we really need to think differently in this world, be more purpose driven and I wonder if it will be the larger organizations or the smaller organisations that will take on this need to equip the future workforce with what they need in order to do this, and it will be interesting to see how they will use technology to feed into that development.”

“In order to work productively, we’ve had to understand the lives of colleagues across the globe in ways we didn’t before,” said Richard Eisermann, Head of Design for Philips Connected Care.People are no longer spending the time to get to work, to commute into work and before Covid they would spend that time either catching up on emails, or maybe having a phone call or two. Now that time is now spent in meetings, before you go into a full day of more meetings, so the only time that you have left over to do your actual work is late in the afternoon or into the evenings."

....you can't be happy, and therefore productive, in an unhealthy environment and you can't innovate if you don't have difference.

Across the UK and beyond, the BBC is helping to set a precedent for a human-centred approach to remote working. 

“Prioritizing health and wellbeing rose to the top of the agenda very quickly at the beginning of the pandemic,” Ellie Runcie, Chief Design Officer, told us. “In fact, the first chapter of our long-distance creativity playbook, is not how to use Zoom, or how to use MURAL, it's how health and wellbeing is critical to long distance creativity because we're all living at work at the moment. It's been a really big thing for the BBC. Health and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion, are integral to our priorities as an organisation, because you can't be happy, and therefore productive, in an unhealthy environment and you can't innovate if you don't have difference."

In the full Resilience & Ritual article you can read more perspectives, observations and insights on the same issues from others including  Jonathan Ball (Designmine), Pete Gordon (Waracle) and Ruth Melville (cultural strategist).

Download and read the full Resilience & Ritual article including top takeaways for increasing your resilience to make remote working work better here

About the writers

Alex O’Toole 
Alexandra O'Toole is a Lancashire based independent, Writer, Creative Director and Producer. For twenty years, Alex has worked nationally and internationally across Europe, the US and the Middle East to develop creative concepts, produce artistic programmes, write narratives and manage design projects for the creative and cultural industries. She writes on commission for creative projects across all mediums, and about creativity, the role of the arts and the business of being an artist.  Her work as a strategist and creative director for the creative and cultural industries is geared towards developing partnerships and growing audiences to maximise opportunities for long term sustainability. As an arts producer, Alex’s larger scale participative projects are created through Fable Arts, a socially engaged arts organisation. She is currently the Chair of Arts Lancashire.  www.alexandraotoole.co.uk

Jonathan Ball 
Jonathan Ball is a Lancashire based independent designer who has built his career on using the practice of human-centred design to help organisations achieve new levels of innovation. After a successful career in product design, he now works independently through Designmine, in collaboration with colleagues at What Could Be and a global network of like-minded associates to deliver across a range of diverse projects, including the Creative Decision Making Playbook for BBC Digital and the Design Thinking Accelerator programme for V&A Dundee. He is a longstanding Design Associate for Design Council and was a part of the team that developed the Double Diamond and created the Design Opportunities Tool for their business support programme, Designing Demand. He is also a Certified Lead Instructor for LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh. Linkedin: Jonathan Ball

Illustrations by Daniel Nelson:

Website: nelsonillustrates.com 

Instagram: @nelson_illustrates 

Twitter: @NelsonPrints


The Creative Step

At Creative Lancashire we want to make the county’s creative sector the fastest growing in the country by giving the next generation of creative businesses the tools to thrive in the future. Our aim is to build an internationally renowned creative community that is built on local talent. Creative Step, our bespoke development programme dedicated to the specific needs of the sector and founded on the understanding that the unique qualities and requirements of creative enterprises are not currently met by mainstream business initiatives, is now recruiting across 2021. 

Having proven the programme offline, we’re now fully functioning remotely using our own tools and techniques to create an equally compelling online experience.

For more information visit the Creative Step page, or for an informal conversation about Creative Step, Creative Lancashire and other sector specific programmes, contact Ed Matthews Gentle at  emg@creativelancashire.org.

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