Mohammed Arif is the business group director of modern workplace and security at Microsoft UAE
As the pandemic has spread around the world, it has moved so rapidly that we are running to keep up with the vast changes it is leaving in its wake. Long-established conventions in workplaces have been smashed, as we are left more atomised and apart from each other, working remotely in diverse ways. There are many small and subtle changes.
As we move into this reimagined world of work, and the signs are that hybrid working is here to stay for the longer-term, it is important to both replicate the human way of doing work that has been established over centuries, as well as providing new ways to ensure wellbeing. Welfare considerations are crucial not only regarding meeting companies’ responsibilities to their employees, but also in keeping employees productive.
Technology is undeniably one of the key tools used to adapt to the new normal, offering workers unprecedented flexibility in how and when they get their work done, obliterating the nine-to-five workday, previously a benchmark worldwide. Innovations like Teams chats, meetings and workday hours are all experiencing an evolution.
A recent study conducted by Microsoft, called Work Reworked, reveals that hybrid working models are here to stay. The research found that 97 per cent of business leaders in the UAE believe that this is the future of work.
Reaching peak productivity in the new workplace
If this new, flexible way of working is the future, how can we make sure employees stay productive? When looking deeper into what working productively entails, there is the ebb and flow of working itself, including what is known as achieving a flow state. The term was first coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi while studying happiness and creativity among artists, poets and even athletes. He used ‘flow’ to describe the level of concentration his subjects would reach as they become totally engrossed in a task while feeling a sense of ecstasy.
What does being in a flow state mean in the context of the modern workplace? For employees, it is when they can put their full attention and effort into a task resulting in superior output and at the same time obtaining a deeper sense of satisfaction from their work.
In the Work Reworked Report, the flow state has been found to be a key element in organisations with innovative workplace cultures – an environment in which it is easy to share and advance innovative ideas. Among large enterprises in the United Arab Emirates, productivity was higher in innovative companies (81 per cent) and employees were happier (80 per cent) than less innovative ones (62 per cent and 44 per cent respectively).
It is important to note the impact that this flow state has on the larger innovative ecosystem of a company. Employees who often engage in flow work proactively offer solutions for addressing challenges (55 per cent) and suggest more effective ways of working to their managers (76 per cent). A work environment that fosters great flow states will find this helps build and strengthen an innovative ecosystem.
Coordinating meetings and calls around teams’ preferred workflow times is one way of protecting and prioritising workflow. According to the report, the most popular time of day to get into a workflow for UAE leaders is 10am, followed by 9am and then 8am. With this in mind, managers should consider scheduling meetings for the afternoon as a way of safeguarding this preferred time for work.
Minimising distractions is important for workers to truly reach a flow state, which is where training on Microsoft Teams can be beneficial. Features like scheduling Focus Time during the day and using the ‘do not disturb’ status indicator are slight changes that can help reduce unnecessary distractions during these vital work hours.
Innovative technology can aid wellbeing
Research from another Microsoft report Work Trend Index underscores just how the pandemic has impacted employee wellbeing globally. The report highlighted that over 30 per cent of Firstline and information workers said the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work. And one-third of remote workers said the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their wellbeing. To help leaders prioritise well-being for every employee, we are introducing experiences to help structure the day, make space for breaks, nurture relationships, and stay on top of tasks.
All these trends indicate technology will play a vital role in managing stress levels and preventing burnout. Microsoft Teams has introduced a curated set of mindfulness experiences and science-backed meditations into the flow of work. Whether you are a remote worker looking to find focus before a big presentation or a Firstline Worker hoping to de-stress after a long workday, this experience makes it easier to find time to relax and recover.
The ways we work are evolving, it is essential that adaptations are made to grow and develop. These changes are not just be necessary in the response and recovery to the pandemic, but also to reimagine the world of work for the future. Most importantly, technology should be put in the service of making work more efficient, more productive, and more sustainable in the long term, with the welfare of workers at the center of innovation.