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Serkan Ceylan

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Are we working longer and not working smarter in L&D?

Is the rise of remote working helping people to work smarter or merely longer? And what impact is this having on your learning and development projects?

It is no secret that the pandemic has shifted the way we work, with an uptick in companies offering hybrid or remote working. But what impact will this have on project management within learning and development? 

Millions of pounds are often lost due to prolonged or failed projects. With more than half of Brits working longer hours when working from home than before the pandemic, what dire impact could this have on all-important L&D projects?

Throughout the pandemic, we saw reports on how working remotely meant people were doing longer hours, with UK employees having increased their working week by almost 25%. These surveys also showed home workers taking shorter lunch breaks, working through sickness, and more people being “always on” as the split between working and leisure time is blurred.

Working longer

But is being switched on for longer the most productive method? We are seeing current trials and studies being conducted around four-day working weeks, and how this may hike up performance resulting in people working smarter, as opposed to longer.  

Working hours for the average worker have decreased dramatically over the past 150 years and the eight-hour working day is a relatively new concept. But research indicates that five hours is about the maximum that most of us can concentrate hard on something.

Looking further into this, a UK survey reported that employees work an average of two hours and 53 minutes per day, with the internet, social media, news sites and colleague catch-ups being a few of the many distractions. 

There are limited hours in the day where we can operate at our peak performance and despite the ease of remote working leading us to better juggling our home life, it can result in people sitting longer at desks but not actually productively working. 

Being adaptable will prevent stumbling blocks from impeding productivity. 

Using collaboration 

Effective project management is all about collaboration across teams. We see thousands of projects falling short each year due to ineffective, two-way communication. 

On average, people waste around 91 minutes each day on tasks and meetings that aren’t important to their role, meaning managers and professionals lose 30% of their time in meetings that they could have invested in other productive tasks.

Some argue working remotely puts pointless meetings to rest, but we have seen the rise of Zoom fatigue and adding in back-to-back meetings to compensate for the lack of in-person connection. 

There is also the benefit of being able to connect internationally when working remotely for all important projects and tasks. However, if communication across countries is not facilitated efficiently and appropriately, a lot of precious time can be wasted.

Add to this the fact that some communication can be lost online or misinterpreted via written channels and the art of collaboration has somehow fizzled. 

There’s often a common misconception that effective time management when working on collaborative or independent tasks is about using a range of tools. In some cases, technology can help.  But often, it is more about the team dynamic, balancing between collaborating and working, as well as behaviour and approaches to such tasks.

Working smarter

Working smarter means getting the most from your day by prioritising, scheduling and planning out tasks. It’s about selecting the most important tasks and not allowing yourself to get side-tracked along the way. It’s also about being malleable and flexible.

A well-defined plan, therefore, is not always the most effective strategy for time management. A ‘big design’ upfront is sometimes effective and gives a sense of being in control; for example, you wouldn’t build a house without having a ‘big design’ blueprint guiding the different contractors on what needs to be done.

To work smartly as opposed to working longer, we can apply the agile philosophy often used in project management.

But if the environment is constantly changing and we are anticipating a lot of change requests – which is often the case in L&D – then any ‘big design’ may have to be rethought and the planning might change to ‘enough design’ upfront. This will give the delivery team some flexibility. The same applies when working smarter; being adaptable will prevent stumbling blocks from impeding productivity.  

Agile project management

To work smartly as opposed to working longer, we can apply the agile philosophy often used in project management and a growing philosophy we ensure our MA students are well-versed in, due to its applicable nature in the business world. 

Agile project management focuses on delivering maximum value against business priorities in the time and budget allowed. The main principles include breaking a requirement into smaller pieces, which are then prioritised by the team in terms of:

  • Importance
  • Promoting collaborative working
  • Taking time to reflect, learn and adjust at regular intervals to ensure that the final outcome results in benefits
  • Integrating planning with execution

All of this will allow an organisation to create a working mindset that helps a team respond effectively to changing requirements. 

Completing your L&D project on deadline and within budget

These elements are becoming more important for project management as a whole – including within learning and development teams – to ensure that projects get to completion within projected time scales and budgets.

The vital thing to remember, however, is that when working with other team members, people work differently and are available at alternative hours. Collaboration, as mentioned, is key, and so having a strong weekly, and daily plan will help.

When working smarter but independently, the best thing you can do is to have consistent work hours. When you first start a task, you should know what is important to complete and how you will complete it. If you keep on stretching your work because you know you have more hours to work, you will merely end up with incomplete tasks. Sit down and complete a part of your task in a certain number of hours to avoid working longer and therefore being less productive.

Interested in this topic? Explore our content series 'L&D's role in boosting digital leadership and project management skills.'

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