COVID Reaction: Calendar Overload

Lines have blurred not only between work and family but also between time zones, geographies, functions, and roles, to name a few. All these are causes for calendar overload.

 

"I’m not finding time for myself. I am either joining meetings or sending reports or homeschooling or managing household chores. I am struggling to draw that line I used to have very clearly earlier. I miss those one-hour workouts, some interesting reads, time to get creative with some new concepts, and fun time with family. I have tried my best to understand what has changed, but I’m unable to manage this,” confessed a professional after weeks of adjusting to the new circumstances posed today. On the one hand, some have reacted to COVID-19 well and have managed their schedules admirably, but for many, the current situation has caused a calendar explosion or overload, and the voice at the beginning of this paragraph is a representative example.

 

As to whether the number of online meetings has increased, the answer has been predominantly yes. This fact cuts across employee levels and functions, but it’s truest for leaders, HR and IT professionals

 

Could we assume that productivity has gone up? The answer has been mixed. I think it also depends on the nature and segment of the work, as well as on the teams’ and the individual’s working style. There is no scientific study measuring productivity levels, so this is still a grey area.

 

The unconscious blurring of the lines between work and life is a reality now and is not a good symptom for the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. It is also not a good sign for the organisation because the creativity and productivity might go for a toss.

 

Current Situation: Blurring Lines, Loading the Calendars

 

Lines have blurred not only between work and family but also between time zones, geographies, functions, and roles, to name a few. All these are causes for calendar overload.

 

Blurred time zones

 

In global organisations, from an employee perspective, meetings start early in the morning, and there are meetings later in the evening as well, to accommodate different time zones. Meetings have increased, and the time for execution outside meeting hours is almost nil, sometimes leading to frustration.

 

Blurred geographical boundaries

 

Cross-geographical teams were formed in global organisations to proactively resolve issues. This has been very effective and has proven to be much-needed, as centralisation to manage the crisis was essential. While some organisations have moved to a decentralised model once again, many still continue with the same number of meetings, leading to calendar overload.

 

Blurred functional and role boundaries

 

Professionals continue to do their specialised functional role and are also expected to support generic crisis management. There is definitely a blurred line there, and if an empathic distribution of available time and activities is not done, it can lead to calendar overload.

 

Moreover, in many organisations, voluntary networks and cross- functional teams were formed, and members were scaling up to handle the crisis. This role was in addition to their regular tasks. These crisis teams were run by leaders who also worked on operational activities along with other members, which was very inspiring to start with. But as we progress, there is more generation of ideas leading to more work. This leaves the calendars overloaded for everyone across levels, adding to the work performed in their regular roles.

 

Overwhelming invitations

 

There are overwhelming invitations to multiple engagement initiatives, policy awareness sessions, infrastructure setup guideline meetings, learning programmes, wellbeing initiatives, and many more activities on the calendar. Anxiety and personal interests play around, and too many accepted invitations lead to calendar overload.

 

The future could be better: Help people help themselves

 

The social work philosophy of “helping people help themselves” holds up very well at this juncture. It is all about having all the doors displayed so that employees can decide which doors to open when. The keys are to be with them so that they can decide when to explore and benefit from unlocking the doors, based on their priorities and interests. Some doors could be already open and could lead employees to those that are closed and are optional. It is best to remember that “one solution doesn’t fit all”.

 

The open doors

 

This situation is there to stay for a bit longer than expected. Many organisations have already set their direction towards more remote working even when the situation returns to normal. So, it is crucial to have all the IT system support required for the employees set up seamlessly, as this becomes very important in a remote work environment.

 

New and revised policies on using internet at home could emerge to support employees working from home. At the same time, there may be client requirements of tracking employees’ activities through several mechanisms, mainly in IT consulting organisations. It is important to create awareness and make employees understand the need for it rather than a feeling that they are being tracked due to mistrust. If hacking can be ethical for all good reasons, this is similar to that and could be termed “ethical stalking”.

 

The closed doors with keys

 

The doors of learning offerings, wellbeing offerings (physical and mental), and counselling support on job security and other related concerns could be created in the form of virtual engagement calendar that provides a view to everything, but the choice whether or not to move it to their own calendar is left with the employee. Also, those responsible for working out the calendars must make sure there is no overkill of anything.

 

Trust is the key to creativity and productivity

 

At an operational employee level, setting clear goals with deliverable timelines and having a good way to measure is crucial. Daily management of activities or checking progress every day could become very annoying for employees. Giving them options to choose from could provide more autonomy.

 

At an organisational level, transparency in the communication of salary increments, promotions, job-related changes would build trust and would enable easier and faster decisions. Policies to support employees in the new normal would result in higher trust that leads to an increase in creativity and productivity.

 

With all this effort, there is a high possibility that there would be streamlined and not overloaded calendars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swarna Sudha Selvaraj is the Head of Talent Development for TCS Europe, UK & Ireland. She is a vibrant HR leader with over 17 years of work experience gained from association with Tata Consultancy Services and Murugappa Group of Companies.

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