Work Design in Hard Reality of Remote Work with prof. Sharon Parker
Work Design in Hard Reality of Remote Work with prof. Sharon Parker
In this episode of Science of Business Podcast we will be talking about the Work Design in hard reality of #remotework.
My guest - prof. Sharon Parker is one of the most influential scientists in the world according to Web of Science Group. Her work was cited over 32 000 times and her interests beyond work design also include proactivity, mental health and job performance.
Prof. Parker is the Director of the Center for Transformative Work Design at Curtin University and as part of her work she consults widely with industry and government on work-related issues.
During our talk, we will search for answers to the following questions:
▶ How to use work design to shape the reality of our employees in remote and hybrid environments?
▶ How to manage social support in remote environment?
Radek: Welcome to Science of Business Podcast by Valueships. My name is Radek. And together with experts from various industries, we discuss new research pieces and their application in business life. If you're a manager or you want to be up to date with science that can be applied in your work, this podcast is made for you.
Good morning and welcome to another episode of Science of Business Podcast. Today my guest is Professor Sharon Parker, the director of the center for transformative work design at Curtin University and one of the most influential scientists in the world according to web of science group. Thank you very much for accepting my invitations and honor to have you.
Sharon Parker: Thank you Radek. It's lovely to be here.
Radek: Today we will be talking about work design and this hard reality of remote work that during pandemic and post pandemic created. And recently I got to know that some employers are inviting their staff to come back to offices by giving some financial benefits that every month they are extra paid just to be in the office. We have noticed a lot of tensions in this disruptive change to hybrid to remote to hybrid depending on the limitations, depending on lockdowns. And I feel they are not yet resolved and they wonder… the first question I wanted to ask you is how do you think we should finally close this stage of figuring out the way and actually making this new way of working work?
Sharon Parker: Yeah. Thanks Radek. And it's interesting to talk to you from Western Australia because we actually only had a very short lock down here because if you don't know anything about the geography of Australia, we're very isolated. In fact we're one of the most isolated cities in the world. So we were able to close our borders. And so consequently there's been very little COVID here. So pretty much from April 2020, we have been back to sort of normal with the exception that we haven't been able to open the borders. So a lot of these challenges that a lot of people are talking about, now this tension that you just mentioned sort of emerged really quite some time ago here in Western Australia. And it's been really interesting to watch how employers have sort of managed that. And we've certainly seen on the one hand the extreme of you must come back into the office. So, we had some of our organizations particularly, perhaps some of the public sector organizations where people were told you have to go back to the office. And partly some of that was coming out of concerns about the city center dying because nobody was coming into the city center. And those sorts of broader concerns. So not necessarily just to do with the work and whether it was getting done but sort of bigger political concerns. And then we had of course some organizations which are like oh, wow, we've discovered we can all work from home so well, that we're going to save office space completely by having everybody work from home. So, we saw these two very extreme responses. And I have to say that although there's still more research to be done and we can talk about why that is. I think in the end where we probably will settle is some sort of hybrid working. And in fact there was a big study done of more than 33000 US workers recently. And it sort of predicted that it's likely that there will be about four times as much remote working after the pandemic as there was before the pandemic. But there won't be quite as much remote working after the pandemic as there was during the pandemic. In other words we'll sort of settle somewhere between those two extremes of not much at all before and really just the select few workers who were perhaps trusted and prepared and so on to the situation where many people were working from home whether they were prepared or not, whether they wanted to or not, whether their work was even suitable to some extent. So, likely will settle somewhere between those extremes. So, we'll have room, we'll have some hybrid working. And then we've got to figure out. And again this is where tensions are emerging. Still even here in western Australia what's the right sort of mixture, what's the right number of days, is it people can work at home, a couple of days per week but in the office a couple of days per week. Who should have control over that decision? Should everybody come in on the same day? Is it better to spread people out and so on…? And obviously some of those questions are dictated at the moment by social distancing because you have to spread people out and so… But we haven't been in that situation; we haven't had any need for social distancing. So, we haven't had to worry about those things. So, it's been like returning to normal. But still there are some complex decisions that need to be made to balance those tensions. What we do know for sure is that many people want to work at home. And ultimately if employers don't accommodate that in to some extent and it doesn't mean that they have to go crazy and allow anarchy. But if they don't accommodate that to some extent, they probably will lose people in the end. So, there has to be a balance struck. And getting the balance right still needs a bit of thought from most organizations, but likely that's where we're going to end up I think from for most companies.
Radek: It's really interesting. When I was preparing to one of the webinars on remote work, I got to know some research connecting the preference with a personality, with the level of extraversion. And I put it on out there in the corporate webinar. And immediately some questions appear. So, if I’m an introvert am I allowed to stay at home? And the question I wanted to ask you, I really like this guidance for us to start thinking about hybrid as maybe a solution when we have tensions. But what could be the factors that could help us to design it? Is the personality one of them? Are there any other things that we should consider? How to decide how this hybrid structure should be created?
Sharon Parker: It's a really great question. Personality plays a role. Although interestingly I have a quote from some of our research from a person who's an introvert who says; “I thought I was an introvert but having been working from home so much I’m really missing my colleagues in the office”. But, actually another study that I’m aware of shows if you're somebody who has a high segmentation preference, in other words you're somebody who likes to keep home and work separate, then you're much more likely to have that sense of homework interference and tension that many people have experienced during this time. So, some people really like to keep those worlds separate and when they can't, they struggle. So that might be a relevant sort of personality attributes as well to look at not just extroversion. So, personality matters but I would actually say it's probably not the most important thing. Probably the most important thing is the nature of the work and the tasks. And that also almost comes back to most policies of flexible working and even though they are being adapted right now. Most of them are in the end about, you know, you can have flexible working as long as you can do the work. And so that means we have to look at well what sort of work do people do. And of course on one extreme, some people cannot do their work at home at all, frontline health workers for example. By and large need to be there doing their work in that context. And of course other people can mostly do quite a bit of their work from home. So, you have to look at the nature of the tasks. And then you can go a little bit more deeply and say well how much are things like collaboration and knowledge sharing, important components. Because in fact there is some evidence that those things are harder to do remotely. And maybe if we just completely online, maybe we'll miss out with some of those sort of knowledge sharing innovation type components. So, there was one study for example published recently which analyzed Microsoft data, so emails and meetings and so on, before COVID and then during COVID. And what they found was very interesting. And they pretty much found that the amount of communication was the same, but people's communication became narrower, and so they talked more only to their immediate colleagues to their team. And that talking and communicating with people beyond the team outside of their silo was actually lower. And that finding sort of resonates with other research, which is called into question, if you're working remotely all the time, perhaps some of those inform, we talk about the water cooler moments and so on and so forth. And there is some evidence to back some of those worries that companies have up that perhaps we will lose something. You know if people have those sorts of teamwork tasks and then they're always working at home. So, I think that's another thing to think about is the nature of the work that people do. I think you've got to think about things like preferences and they may not be personality, they might be, I’ve got three small children that run around the house screaming all day and I’m desperate to get out of my house. I know that when we all went back to work, some of the people that were most eager to be back, were people with young children and they were like oh, I’m just so happy to. I wanted to get out the house and you can't work properly when the kids. So, your personal circumstances do have decent. Some of us have got beautiful setups; some of us are working in your bedroom. All those, so there's a whole bunch of things that are going to shape whether it suits you to work at home, whether it suits your organization to allow you to work flexibly, a great deal at home. So, those are things. And that's why it's hard, that's why there's no simple answer, we can't, you know, you hear some people say well the ideal number of days is two that people should work at home and then three in the office. Well ideal for whom? You know? And that might be a rough rule of thumb for some people. But it's going to depend on personality preferences situation at home, the type of work that you're doing.
Radek: It really triggered me this research about communication from Microsoft. And I know in your paper, published in the applied psychology journal, there was also a reference to the fact that the connections online in this remote work were not the same as in the offices. And that this social support was very important for well-being. So, I wonder what would be some suggestions, some practicalities in terms of defining this social support. If we know that simply asking people to be more social, online doesn't help.
Sharon Parker: Yeah. So, I mean, first of all it is about recognizing the importance of providing support to people. And that's not just logistical practical support but sometimes its emotional support. How are you doing? And that particular study that you're referring to, which was a study led by my PhD student at the time, Bin Wang and that was a study conducted in china, in the very early days of the pandemic actually. And in china the levels of remote work were very low, pre-pandemic. And so, I think in that study supervisors and peers providing support at a very uncertain time. And there was a lot of change happening, a lot of things that people didn't know would work or not. And it was really important. And so as a general leader behavior providing support to people during times, particularly of uncertainty, is really a key. And it can be as simple as saying how are you doing. So, we talk about the importance of checking in versus checking up. And some of the other research that we've done during this time shows that unfortunately there's a chunk of managers who are more focused on checking up on people so… And we can talk about that a bit later, sort of micromanaging them and so on… because they can't see them and they worry are they working. But, from a support perspective, just to check in can really help. And I think that leaders can also facilitate conversations that are effective when working remotely. And actually technology can help in that respect, right? Because for example we all know that, you have the, there's some team meetings and sometimes there's some really dominant people and no one else can get a word in edge as well. One great thing about a meeting online is that you've got a chat function, so if there's one dominant person other people can be chatting in the background. So, we can also, you know, as a leader you can be looking at the sorts of conversations that are happening on these remote meetings and be thinking about ways to improve them because there is actually some research evidence showing that status differences that normally are quite negative for team interactions. Actually status differences get lowered a little bit when you've got more electronic forms of communication. So, there could be some advantages even for getting good conversations going using this technology. But, yeah, look checking in is a number one. And then I think leaders are being thoughtful about how they can… I guess there's two goals that the leaders might have from that sort of social support, social aspect. One is support and that can be emotional. It can also just be practical or whatever. But the other is coordination. And so we just mentioned that coordination can get a bit more challenging when people are not able to bump into each other informally and so on… So, elite has also got to give a bit of attention to how do I, how do I coordinate people? And bearing in mind that research that I just described which suggested that we get more insular and narrow. Maybe leaders need to also be proactive about reaching out and creating some of those opportunities for connection with people outside of the immediate team. So, I don't know, you could set up some little shared discussions on a particular topic or whatever. I mean you could think that through. So, I think if leaders are sort of aware of some of the challenges of support and coordination, they can devise some strategies for overcoming them. I guess it's just being aware. It is a first step for leaders, and then being thoughtful to address it.
Radek: I love it. It is something like as simple as putting a post-it next to your monitor to remember to check in on your team members might be already a very practical solution to that. And then there was, in the very same research, there was other surprising result about the relation between autonomy in your work tasks and loneliness that it wasn't the way that we would expect it to be. And I wonder how did you try to explain it in a sense? And also if it was replicated, you know if that's something that can be more general to other cultures.
Sharon Parker: Well, first of all, so in that study we found and again this is the one by my colleague Bin Wang that if you had more autonomy over how you do your work you were less likely to be lonely. And I must admit it wasn't something that we'd predicted. And so, we thought a little bit about what might explain that. And what we thought and I have to admit this has not been sort of subsequently tested. But, we thought that what we know from research about autonomy already is that if you've got autonomy in your work, you're much more likely to be proactive because you sort of got bit more sense of ownership of your work and your jobs. And so maybe at that time when we did that study in the early days of the pandemic, people who had autonomy felt more proactive and more ownership about their work. And so, they were quite comfortable to reach out to their colleagues and get the support and things that they needed. And that combatted their loneliness. So that was sort of what we reasoned. But if there’s any PhD student out there, that could be something to explore because we didn't test that subsequently. But we did do other research during the pandemic. So, another study that we did was a study of a thousand or so people. And we actually in this study we tracked people and this was a study done by Dr. Caroline Knight and Professor Anita Keller. And what we did was we tracked people's mental health and their work experiences 15 times across the…. So, these poor people or these wonderful people actually I should say who did our survey 15 times. But what we were able to do was look at how people's experience changed over the time of the pandemic. And we found, interestingly we found sort of two groups of people. We found that 80 percent of people, actually their mental health improved over time. So, it was a bit higher in the early days of the pandemic, people were uncertain not sure what would happen. But over time it seems they adapted and they actually, their distress levels got lower. But we found 20 percent of people were in this other group and they were a group of people who had very high distress and their distress actually increased more over time. It did get to a point then where it sort of plateaued, it didn't get any higher but it was high. And then we asked the question well, who is in that group and does their work have anything to do with being in that group. And sure enough we found some important predictors of membership of that group. And one of them was not having autonomy or to put it differently, it was being micromanaged and monitored. So, we did find that those people that were that 20 percent of people whose distress was high and got higher over time during the pandemic also were more likely to report that they had a boss that wasn't giving them much autonomy and that was checking up on them before I said we shouldn't checkup, we should check in. And these people were much more likely to have the sort of boss that was calling up because they didn't believe that they were working because they couldn't see them. And so, they were calling up to check that they were there and if they weren't there sitting at their desk, there was this assumption they were off playing golf or whatever, doing whatever, looking after the kids. And actually some of these people when we interviewed them, they talked about feeling tethered to their desk. They actually felt more stuck to their desk than even when they would be in the office because in the office, the manager knew they were working and could trust that they were working. But, when they were home, a good 20 percent of the managers did not properly trust their employees and then they monitor them. And that's stressful, right? You know it's stressful if you've got a manager who doesn't really believe you're working and is constantly trying to check up on you and it means that you feel like you could, you got to stay by your desk, you've got to keep your phone on all the time, you've got to respond immediately and that creates stress and that explains some of that variance in that group that had that high distress and got worse over time.
Radek: When you mentioned the first thing that came to my mind wasn't really micromanaging. I was thinking that maybe it comes to being oversensitive in terms of neuroticism and so forth for other rather some this explanation. But, this suggests we should really consider some legal actions to make micromanagement forbidden by law because I didn't know it has such big implications on our wellbeing.
Sharon Parker: Yeah, it's interesting. Well, in a weird sort of way there is a legal element to this because in Australia and in many places in Europe and in the UK, employers have a legal responsibility not to cause harm to their employees. And that includes psychological harm. So, right now one of the huge things that's happening in Australia and I know elsewhere in the world is that because mental health issues have really surfaced, there's a lot of attention of employers saying how can I know that we are not stressing our workers out and causing harm because we have a legal responsibility. You also have a moral responsibility too. But sometimes you need that legal element as well. So, in some and actually this is where this language of psychosocial risks or psychosocial hazards comes from. And a lack of autonomy is a well understood psychosocial risk. In other words, there are legal precedents of employers getting into big trouble because they are excessively controlling of their workforce, creating distress in their workforce which is a form of harm. So, I’m not saying that sort of thinking is incredibly widespread but it's growing and it will grow more as awareness increases. So even when your employer and there's been a lot of discussion about when people are working from home, how do we make sure that they're set up ergonomically and they've got decent desks and all that sort of thing and that's important. But we also need to make sure psychologically they're okay because as employers that are a responsibility, both, I would say legal and moral responsibility that we have.
Radek: In this manner we have also a comment on this relation between autonomy and the remote work from Huan. If this in your research would be rather leaner or more of a normal distribution, so I imagine that low autonomy decreases dissatisfaction then middle autonomy increases it and then if we are fully autonomous with no connection to the externals that could also harm our well-being.
Sharon Parker: This is a great comment because I actually have a PhD student who's, well she's finished her PhD, so she's no longer a student. And it was on the curvilinear relationship between autonomy and things like stress. And you're exactly right that moderate to high autonomy is great, but very high autonomy can actually have some downsides. You know, for one thing, there's all that research on, if you've got too much choice, it can sort of be weirdly stressful because you don't know what to do because you just got too much latitude. And that takes some resource, mental resources, to figure out and stuff. So that comment is a great and very astute comment. There is some evidence that very extremely high levels of autonomy are not necessarily as good for you as just having some decent influence over your work.
Radek: It reminds me, last week I was referring some research in leadership and I found out some new evidence from shared leadership approach that this amount of connections between team members is the best predictor of team overall success in shared leadership structures. So, actually that everyone has some connections. And it would be only based on one person, and then this means that we are actually left alone only being dependent on this one individual that might call or might not call and that would be our entire social network…
Sharon Parker: And that's so interesting because also because in some ways if you think about one reason that sort of extreme high autonomy is not always great. One reason is because we usually work in teams. And if you just have extreme high autonomy and exercise it, it sometimes can mean that you're not really taking so much consideration of your colleagues and what they're doing. So, for example, let's take remote work, imagine that you are allowed to just work at home and imagine you've got a team, you're interdependent with your team, you've got to collaborate but you can just work at home whenever the hell you like. Okay? Well that might be great for you but maybe there are certain times where you're being at home actually influences your team members and it means they have to go in for all the client meetings for example because you're always at home. So that would be an example of where just extreme level of autonomy, without some moderation is not ultimately very helpful for you, for the team as well as your own well-being.
Radek: Taking a lot of notes, it's already three pages…
Sharon Parker: I can just go on and on and on forever.
Radek: That's amazing. I wanted to also discuss with you another paper, the piece in oxford research enclave media and work design. And I think this will very nicely wrap up some of the practical implications on how to design such a work that actually helps to maintain well-being and to be adjusted to all the factors that we mentioned earlier on. And this also emphasizes why I love research so much is that in such a short piece you can really understand the essence of the field. And in here you had an explanation of what consists of a good work design that it should have characteristics of high autonomy, social support and feedback and moderate in workload, role ambiguity and role conflict… And reading that I thought this is because it's backed by evidence because there is plenty of research covering that we can actually as leaders take those factors and assess ask our team members how they feel in each of them and try to figure out how we can change our work design or even maybe invite our employees for job crafting to shape it by themselves to make sure that we score correctly in this field. And I wonder because it seems easy until we start doing that. So, I wonder if you have some more practical suggestions on how we could…
Sharon Parker: Yeah. Well, let me first of all, if you don't mind Radek, if I can just share some of that research with you in a model form. And then perhaps after I’ve done that, perhaps we can come back to that question of how do you do it. So first I’ll just focus a bit more on what are we trying to do here, and what you're talking about is trying to create good work design. And if I have one overarching message about all this discussion that we're having around remote work, working from home, how much etc. My overarching message is, to some extent that questions of how much should we work, should we have flexible is the wrong question. The question is… the question we should focus on is how we design good work, healthy - productive work for people whether they're in the office, whether at home or whether it's both. So how do we then understand what good work is, what is productive healthy work. And here we can draw on the work design literature. And I did a review a few years ago of 100 years of research on this topic. So, there are thousands of studies, literally thousands of studies that have asked this question what sort of characteristics of work really help us to be productive and healthy. And we took all that research and we took all the, more than 30 characteristics that have been looked at. And we recently myself and Caroline knight, we did a sort of what's called a higher order factor. And I was to say are there… is there a sort of way that we can synthesize some of this complexity because as you say when we say to employers, you've got to look at psychosocial risks or you've got to look at work design, they get a bit overwhelmed, they're like where do I start, I don't know. So, we introduced the smart work design model, and it's an evidence-based, synthesis of the key aspects of work that really matter. So, I just quickly go through them. So, S is for stimulating and this is about having work where you've got a bit of variety, where you use your skills, where you feel a bit of challenge, where you feel a sense of meaning and significance in your work. But overall you get some interest and some enjoyment from your work. So that's S for stimulating. M is for mastery. And M stands for people having the knowledge and the clarity and the feedback that they require to do their work well to master their tasks. And so M really comes out of this recognition that most people who come to work want to do well. There's a tiny minority who don't. Most people who come to work want to do their task well. So what do we need to put in place? They need to know what their job is. So, they need to have what we call role clarity. They need to know, what are they responsible for? What are their key roles? And then they need to get some feedback on how they're going with those key roles and responsibilities. How are they doing? Are they delivering or are they not delivering? And we don't need to wait just for the annual performance review. We can actually give feedback a little bit more frequently than that. So the M for mastery is all about the importance of people being clear what it is they're doing and then getting some feedback on how they are doing. And A, would you like to guess Radek, what A is for…?
Radek: Oh wow! I would choose achievement.
Sharon Parker: Okay. Well, that's a good guess but actually…
Sharon Parker: Yes. Well done! Its autonomy but actually we use the word agency and the reason we use the word agency is because we used to talk about autonomy and then in western Australia we have a lot of mining and we talked a lot with autonomy to the mining companies about autonomy and we had confusing conversations because they think of machine autonomy when they talk about autonomous functioning, whereas we think about human autonomy. So, we started referring to agency. And that is fundamentally about what we've already talked about, not being micromanaged, having some influence, having some control, being involved, having a sense that you can actually shape your work worlds and not feel sort of helpless and so on… so that's A. And then R is for relational. And this really speaks to that fundamental human need that we all have to connect and belong and that fundamental need that we've discovered during COVID more than ever. But it's true in a workplace as well when we work we want to connect with other people whether that's remotely or whether it's face to face but we want to have genuine connections with people, we want to get support from our leaders. We want to get support from our peers; we want to feel that we're part of a team, all of these sorts of aspects make up for relational work design. And then T is sort of the big one in my experience in the sense of just about every organization we work with at the moment is struggling with T. And T is about having demands in work that are tolerable. So what we mean by that is, all work has demands, it's pretty much the definition of work, right? You've got things that you've got to achieve, you've got goals that you've got to deliver on. But you need to make sure that whatever those demands are whether it's emotional demands, dealing with clients, for example that are suicidal or whether it's cognitive demands, like really difficult problems you've got to solve or whether it's even just the sheer amount of work that you're doing, how long you're working, these demands that we have in our work need to be experienced as tolerable, they need to be something we feel that we're able to manage and cope with. And one of the, of course you can try and reduce the demands, that's one strategy. But you can also increase those other things, the SMAR to make the demands feel more tolerable. So, just as an example, if you've got, let's take COVID as an example that you thrust into that situation, let's say your company had to pivot and suddenly you're having to put everything online and do everything differently, that's demand, right? That's tough, that's stressful. But, if you've got a boss that's supportive and caring about you checking in not checking up, if you've got some autonomy, so that if you're also juggling kids at home, you're able to put your computer down and go and deal with them and so on. If you've got the SMAR, then you're much more able to deal and tolerate those demands. And so you can cope with more. So, I hope you don't mind me just unpacking that a little bit more but sort of almost before we start talking about well how do you get that better work design, first have to understand what is good work design and so I do encourage employers and employees themselves as well to just use that little simple model to check how is my job, how am I going on those each of those dimensions, where are my sort of blind spots or weaknesses or areas that I could improve on. It’s very simple and just a good way of trying to build quality work.
Radek: Just especially with this emergence of job crafting, I see more and more papers on that, more and more LinkedIn posts about how to take ownership of designing the way we work. I think this is a great tool. So, you suggest that the leaders should use it as a reference to evaluate how the work design is, and then design the ways how it should be to fix wherever we have an issue. Again it seems simple. And I wonder when we implement that what can go wrong, what we should pay attention to.
Sharon Parker: Well, look, it isn't simple. It can be simple. Sometimes it can be really simple. It can be about removing a particular bureaucratic rule that's getting in the way. Or it can be about just allowing people to rotate their jobs. So, they get a bit more stimulation. So, it can be simple. But, it also can be more challenging than that. I think one way that I like to look at it is if you really want to create good work design, it has to be a sort of shared responsibility between the worker, between the boss of the worker and with the organization as well. So, if I can just sort of explain that a little bit. So, crafting is sort of putting the responsibility of work design onto the person and that is great, encourage people, support people to craft their work and by that we mean mold their work. And just to give you a quick example during the pandemic, one of my PA, in fact was a bit under stimulated, so she didn't have that stimulation in her work because she couldn't do certain tasks at home, she couldn't launch events and do interesting. So, she we encouraged her to craft her work and so she made her job more stimulating by learning how to do web design because that's something she wanted to do and she's sort of arty and all that sort of thing. So that's great. But, I would also say that sometimes crafting is not enough or sometimes the challenges of the work go beyond the… in fact very often, they go beyond what an individual can do. So, if I can give an example maybe of something like aged care. So, I don't know how aged care is in your country but in Australia what we see in aged care is some very burnt out workers because… and this was even pre-COVID. Even pre-COVID aged care workers were burnt out. Why are they burnt out? Well, partly because there are not enough of those for the number of people that they've got to look after. Why are there not enough of them? Because of the funding structure and the funding model from the government for aged, so you could see that as much as you might try to encourage aged care workers to craft their work, so that it's more tolerable. Actually some of it is going to be outside of their control and some of it's really going to require their bosses or even higher than the bosses, the country that the system to actually change in order for those guys to get better work. So what I think is the Holy Grail is thinking about them all at the same time. So having the crafting, encouraging the crafting, encouraging people to develop and so on so that they can make their work smarter. But also looking at it from a little bit more of a systemic perspective and asking questions around, well, so again let's go back to that example of micromanagement, if you've got a leader that's checking in on you all the time and double triple checking your work, doesn't matter how much crafting you're going to do, it's still going to be pretty terrible. What we need to do? There is change the leader, right? And then we can even go higher and change the policies and the structures in the whole company to support smart work. So, sometimes if demands are really intolerable in some sectors, the systemic problems are such that, it will be quite complex actually to really create smart work. But, sometimes it's just a little tweak or a little change or encouraging people to craft and that's sufficient. It depends a bit on the industry and so on that you're in. Does that make sense Radek?
Radek: Yeah, it does. It also reminds me of the conversation we had before going live about having cameras on and off. I had a webinar on zoom fatigue, and wanted to present that different research shows that in plenty of meetings we don't need to have cameras on. That sometimes audio is even better that actually in many cases people hear emotions better from pure voice than from being distracted by multiple cameras on. And then the sponsor of the training says no, this is a no-go because we have a strict policy of cameras on in our company. And I think, like, what I’m hearing from you is that in case we have attention that is not individual, that is not coming from one person that we can adjust but actually from the entire team or even from the entire organization that maybe we shouldn't be that strict with our policies and find a way fight for them in terms of searching for another way to resolve the tensions…
Sharon Parker: And see that's another great example of if people experiencing zoom fatigue and we say, well that's okay, you're an individual, you can craft your work to not experience zoom fatigue but meantime you've got an organizational policy that says you can't turn your camera off, then you've got sort of a systemic contradiction there. But just on that topic of zoom fatigue, in the very early days of the pandemic, actually I made a whole bunch of videos and blogs. And one of them was on; I called it being a zoom zombie actually. And interestingly subsequently people have done research on it and sort of found very similar things to what I was speculating and I was sort of just speculating based on other research, because at that point not much had been done. And one of the things I remember talking about in that video was that, there's this thing about being on stage and off stage. And actually when you are on a camera like we are now, you are on stage and that is more tiring than being off stage. So, allowing people to go off stage actually allows them to have a rest. And it's particularly the case that so being on screen, like this is more tiring than us being in the room together. Because in the room together we don't have to work so hard to understand all the cues because we've got the three-dimensional person and we've got other people's reactions to use and so on and so forth. But in this situation we have to pay more attention to get the same amount of cues from people, same amount of information. So, it is more tiring. So, we have… so letting people turn off their camera… Now look sometimes I think it's completely fine to say guys turn your cameras on. That's also true but just again it's just about being sort of balanced about it. Another thing is, when you've got back-to-back zoom meetings… Once upon a time you'd have someone outside your office and they could see that you're on a meeting still and they'd go away and they'd come back in 10 minutes, whereas there's not, you don't get that information right with zoom, maybe they'll develop that soon. But at this point in time you don't. So, you end up in these back-to-back meetings with no break and so on. And this is where these ideas of, I know some companies where they say well, we have a rule, the first five minutes if people are late, there's no problem etc. whatever. You can create some workarounds. But, I think it is a case of recognizing that, yeah, that can be a demand actually. And so one of the strategies that we can have to reduce that demand is to give people a little bit of agency, give people a little bit of autonomy over… Well, actually I really want to turn my camera off because I want to get up and do some stretching. I’m still going to listen to you but I’ve sat on my chair for five hours and I want to get up and stretch a little bit. So, I think it's probably, again this sort of balanced strategy that in the end giving people a bit of agency. I guess over these decisions can help make those demands more manageable.
Radek: Thank you. And we are coming to the end of our meeting today. And I still want to have even more of your insights. I wonder we talked about the past research, some of the things that we are already discovered. But what would be your things to focus on for 2022, the things that we still need to find a solution for some suggestions on what to pay attention to that we still are in in this period of transition. So, your suggestions, number one recommendation for 2022.
Sharon Parker: Well, alright, I’ll just stick with one which is that… and I’ll stick to the theme of working from home and so on. And I think it is about what… we still don't really know enough about how to manage this sort of hybrid working at such a large scale with so many people doing it. So, we knew how to manage hybrid working before when it was the specially chosen few. But now when 75 percent of people want to work from home, at least some of the time we've got to figure out how we're going to do that to keep everyone happy. So, I do think there are quite a few questions that we need to explore. And some of it is about looking over not just the short term but the longer term because it might be that in the short term, everyone's very comfortable wants to stay at home but in the long term actually they get fed up or might be in the short term there's no impact on innovation but like that Microsoft study, I mentioned before, in the long term there actually is. So, we still do need a little bit of research on some of these things. One of the areas of research that my colleague Caroline knight and I have embarked on is, we're actually measuring work design now by asking people what's your work like when you're at home and they fill out the smart work design model and then we ask them what's your work like when you're in the office and obviously this is a sample of people who are doing both. And then we've been looking at how does that predict their well-being, and so just to give you one example finding, we find that colleague support in the office for these hybrid workers is the biggest predictor of loneliness or lack of loneliness by far. So that's actually quite interesting because what that's really saying is that, even if you've got plenty of colleague support when you're working from home, it seems to be colleague support at work that really makes you feel less lonely. So that's just the tip, that's just very early research that we've just started on but I’d love to see some more exploration of those sorts of what's the right combination of things and how do we figure that out and keep our bosses happy as well because that's important too. We've got to get that right balance between productivity and health and well-being and we can't go too far down the, you know, employees want to just stay home all the time, that's great for them but then they lose sight of the big picture and the company side of things but equally we don't want to have the companies forcing everyone back and disregarding people's preferences to have some time at home, at least we want to get that sort of sweet spot in the middle. And that's still going to take some figuring out, I think. So that's what I’d like to see some research on in 2022.
Radek: Thank you. Thank you very much. And wow, I think I have some ten papers already written with notes. So, a lot of things to consider to reiterate and try to apply, I think plenty of practical solutions for our listeners, if you want to know even more about transformative work design, go to transformativeworkdesign.com, a website with a lot of materials and also the smart work design model where you can explore it and professor Sharon K Parker also invited us to visit her LinkedIn and follow her there because she publishes all the research there. I’m honored. I’m looking forward to meeting you again to explore more. Thank you very much Professor.
Sharon Parker: Thank you Radek. Hopefully we can meet in person one day. Wouldn't that be nice to have a coffee together or a beer or something? So, thank you so much for inviting me and all the very best.
Radek: Thank you for listening to this episode of Science of Business Podcast. Follow Valueships on LinkedIn and Facebook to be up to date with future episodes and live streams from the recording.