Busy is no longer a badge of honour

Empathy and mindfulness are the new measures of success in the workplace, says Holly Fraser, Director of Content and Editor-in-Chief at WePresent

By Holly Fraser, WePresent     Illustrations by Bea R Vaquero    Thursday 2 July, 2020   Long read

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‘If you’d asked me at the beginning of 2020 how I was, chances are I wouldn’t have said the expected “fine, thank you”, or even the slightly less good “not bad”, but instead opted for “busy”. I would have then probably chatted about how much work I had on and which deadlines were looming, asked you how you were and you’d also lament your busy status. We’d bond over just how busy we were. Somewhere over the past few years, “busy” became the default answer to sum up our state of being. Because for a lot of us, our job – in some capacity – takes up most of our waking and thinking hours. Until, of course, it doesn’t. 

‘Few could have predicted the monumental U-turn that 2020 would take and just how much all of our lives would change, almost overnight. The capitalistic hamster wheel we’d all kept running in ground to a halt somewhere around March. Now, as we begin to navigate our way back to some form of pre-pandemic normality, perhaps it’s time to take stock of where we were before, and where we want to be moving forward. I used to wear my busyness almost as a badge of honour. Meetings, calls, Slack messages, texts, checking my email on a Saturday morning “just in case” – my phone seemingly surgically attached to my hand at all times. Like so many people, I was totally addicted. But everything has changed, and so should we. Perhaps the last few months have created enough distance from our past lives to see what needs to change for the future. Maybe it took this moment for us to truly realise where our priorities lie, and realign ourselves more closely with them. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen if you cancel that meeting and take some time for yourself instead?

‘This shifting landscape is one that we’ve been learning to navigate at WeTransfer as we begin to realise that the pandemic is not just a blip in our timeline. It is, in fact, an entire societal upheaval, with effects that will be felt long after we’ve left our social-distancing bubbles. Putting empathy at the core of what we do has been part of our company ethos since the beginning, but in a moment of global crisis that is really put to the test. We had to practise what we preach. First up, was to realise and communicate that we weren’t just moving from working in the office to working from home, but instead trying to make it work, from home. With people juggling kids and home-schooling, caring for sick family and friends, and communicating with colleagues across different time zones, flexibility was key. We adapted schedules, meetings and responsibilities to allow for an updated and realistic take on the work-life balance. To avoid video call fatigue, we capped meetings at three a day and opted for concise emails instead. We encouraged each other to be vulnerable, to admit that we were struggling and be open when it just wasn’t a good day. There were plenty of times when going for a walk to clear your head was better than trying to tick off everything on your to-do list. And, as a company, we embraced that mindset. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a break.
An illustrated interpretation of a person sitting cross-legged with items spinning around them.
‘And you know what? The work didn’t suffer. Being fluid meant that we chose how and when we would be the most productive. Each person felt accountable for their own workload and, instead of sticking to a monotonous 9-5 work day, we created a new system based on empathy, trust and flexibility. Of course, there were down days and challenges that arose. However, by dismantling an old system in favour of an updated one, we forged a path for the future of work at WeTransfer built on the core values of the company.

‘Moving forward, I’m in no rush to jump back into the old way of working. Having the newfound space to sit with my thoughts has made me realise that being constantly “on” isn’t just an unhealthy way to work, but a counterproductive one, too. More time to think allows for new perspectives, greater clarity and renewed focus on being proactive as opposed to reactive. As a company, WeTransfer has embraced our new distributed way of working and, while the office has now opened for those who need it, most people choose to continue working remotely and will do so until the end of the year at least. There’s still a way to go before we start feeling normal (whatever that now means) again. But, for now, we’re holding onto the hope that what we build anew serves us better than what came before. Change is not always comfortable, but it’s often necessary.’  


Tips to change your working patterns

Check in and out with your team each day, so that everyone knows when you’re available and when you’re not. Overcommunicating is better than not at all.

Don’t micromanage. Everyone is accountable for their own work and you should trust your colleagues without having to constantly check in.

Set daily priorities with your team, so that working apart doesn’t lead to confusion.

Take proper breaks throughout your day and encourage your team to do the same. Do some exercise, get some fresh air and allow yourself time to think. Make a rushed lunch at your desk a thing of the past.

Assess what needs to be a meeting and what could be an email. Too many video calls just end up wasting time and leading to fatigue. 


Holly Fraser is Director of Content and Editor-in-Chief at WePresent, WeTransfer’s editorial platform.

Illustrations by Bea R Vaquero, beavaquero.com

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