For many office workers, the months leading up to the holiday are hugely busy. We juggle our hectic, pressurised work lives, working overtime in the evenings and at the weekends, with balancing time for family and friends. But by the end of December we're tired, overstretched, longing for a rest.
Technology is central for all of us, particularly at this time of year. Not only are we connected and online feverishly trying to complete our work projects and "to-do" lists so that we can start the New Year afresh. But we are also on our smartphones checking in on emails around the clock, squeezing in work and personal jobs whether that's researching and buying a special gift for nan, doing the Christmas food shop or writing up that last report for the boss before you go on holiday.
Whilst technology has been a great enabler for us, allowing us to streamline admin, automate processes and make us much more efficient, there's also this nagging feeling at this time of year that we should disconnect and slow down. The pace of life, combined with a constant need to be connected, leave many people asking themselves how can work differently.
When I wrote the book Business Reimagined: Why work isn't working and what you can do about it, it was based on the hypothesis that the workplace is increasingly no longer fit for purpose and that an office-based culture, when applied too rigidly, could actually stifle innovation and productivity. A few months on, an independent study of more than 2,000 UK office workers, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by YouGov, confirms this.
The report - The Daily Grind: Break the Mould - revealed that we're getting bogged down in process and sadly for 77% of the UK office workers surveyed, 'a productive day in the office' constitutes 'clearing email'. This fixation with completing such tasks and being constantly connected can be wearing.
The holiday season is always such a great time to reflect and consider what's valuable to us, and make resolutions to do things differently, to embrace change and forge a new path. But it's often all too easy to fall back into the trap of the everyday where nothing really changes and all that good positive thinking is wasted. So instead, this year, here are a few very practical things you can do to ensure that when you come back, energised in the New Year, you start off on a positive footing and keep focused on making those resolutions stick:
1.Slow down & "disconnect". Technology means that we can access our work and personal emails, social feeds and the internet anywhere and everywhere. But it can be exhausting being connected 24 hours a day, and if we never switch off we don't have an opportunity to reenergise ourselves. Reintroduce boundaries and prioritize creativity by switching off in the evenings. Go for a walk with the dog, visit a museum, listen to some music, but whatever you do - don't be tempted to pick up your mobile phone.
2.Embrace flexible working. One of the advantages of mobile and social technologies in the workplace is that you can work from anywhere. In fact, according to our research, 38% of UK office workers would like to do so more often. Many companies have a flexible working policy which you could be eligible to take advantage of. In the New Year, investigate what's possible and make it a priority to work flexibly once a week - but don't just think of it in terms of "working from home", think about other locations that will make you more productive and better connected (hint: your customer's premises perhaps, or your local library) and then encourage your colleagues to do the same.
3.Find space and time to think. Being connected is brilliant when you need to get stuff done, but there are some times when you just need an opportunity to get your head around a tough challenge and being in the office distracted by email isn't helpful. Put time aside in your diary to "go dark" and let your creative problem-solving skills get a workout - an hour away from emails will give you the space to do some innovative and creative thinking. Not only will you solve that tough to crack nut, but you'll feel the satisfaction of finally having got around to addressing that big work elephant in the corner.
4.Take a proactive step to not only look at your own personal work habits but the work culture of your entire organization. And then take the initiative to do something about it. Often you'll find that there's a pattern across the whole office or team which needs to be addressed. If you can see technology and working processes which aren't operating effectively, seek out feedback from your team and lead on working to change it. Your colleagues will appreciate you asking their opinion, and will be more willing to collaborate with the effort to change.
Put these steps into action and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much you accomplish in a relatively short period of time. Not only that but you'll feel great about taking positive action that really does change your attitude to finding balance at work and at home.