We have never been in so much control
Note from interviewer:
A few weeks into our “new normal” I reached out to Marta, our Enterprise Sales Lead for Spain, Italy and Portugal to get her take on the last few months. She held a great session at the start of lockdown in Europe for our EMEA employees about her own experience in adapting to working from home. It had a direct impact on how I managed my own work, so I could think of no better person to approach on this subject. And let me tell you, what I got from her is GOLD!
Andreea: Thank you for taking the time to sit with me through yet another Zoom meeting. I wanted to get your take on how things evolved since we last spoke about working from home. Have you been feeling the pressure?
Marta: We keep hearing about Zoom fatigue all the time, and I think a lot of people have already written and spoke about this subject. I call it the “two-dimensional world” we’re now stuck in, when the reality outside continues to be three-dimensional. It has been challenging to balance back-to-back calls at the start but I think we’re certainly all becoming a bit better at it. I can tell you I’ve not mastered it yet, but I definitely feel more able to deal with this now. It starts with setting very clear boundaries for your time; especially your Zoom time.
A: So what are some of the tactics you have been using to put your time to better use?
M: I began to reimagine efficiency and understand it in terms that make more sense in the context we’re facing right now. I first realised that there is a lot of time that we gained back during this new normal: time spent travelling, commuting, checking in and out of clients’ buildings, etc. That time is now ours to use more wisely and to maximise our efficiency. And yet, I certainly felt like I was being less efficient at the start until I realised that I have full control over where I am needed and where I am not.
A: So how do you decide where to invest your time?
M: It all started with the understanding that being protective of my time makes me more efficient in my personal and professional life. It may seem like a very martial way to manage things and less personable, but it is one of the most effective ways to deliver the expected results.
A: I like the martial angle you mentioned because I often feel compelled to attend every meeting I am asked to attend. I don’t want to miss out on anything but sometimes you end up multitasking because you’re in back-to-back meetings. How do you manage this?
M: There are a few people I admire a lot in Qualtrics that are practicing this martial approach, and they are very careful with their time, but also efficient and still extremely supportive to others. I started to take a page out of their book and asked people who would invite me to meetings for the agenda beforehand. I would then question if we could tackle those agenda items over chat, email, or even a 10-minute phone call. If I can’t think of things that would add value to my workload or where I could add value in a group meeting, I know my presence there is not required. Making these decisions helped me become more efficient with my time and also more focused.
Another important change I made for example is to use TEAMS with SAP colleagues directly. I have it fully installed so I can chat with them using it and shortcut conversations (that may take forever through email) or even open a conference call directly at that moment as needed to quickly resolve the matter. “SAP is just a TEAMS away” to put it one way.
A: How do you know you’re not going to miss out on something great if you’re not there?
M: For me, it all comes down to picking meetings where my time is spent on relevant activities for reaching mine and my team’s goals. I let my snippets* dictate my priorities and I set them at the end of the day/week in order to go home with a relaxed mind knowing I have a clear list to return to in the morning. Having a routine keeps you going and if you wake up every day to the thought that you have a million things to achieve, it can feel overwhelming. So you have to pick the most important things: the ones you are in control of 100% and get those crossed off the list in the day or week ahead. If I can contribute to achieving those important items by attending a meeting, I’ll be there. If not, I will politely decline. It’s less about opting out of meetings and more about opting into the relevant ones. If you cannot clearly state what one thing you can take away from or give back in that meeting, it’s a sign you need to assess how much your presence is needed there.
A: Those are great tips, Marta, I can see how that might help you win back some precious time. What do you do with that time that helps you?
M: I have time to prepare better meetings, better content, think, and plan. I am also careful of others’ time and this really helps in striking a balance with my own team. Although we all know this in theory, getting to this in practice is definitely more difficult. I also have time to dedicate to important activities which helps me be efficient indirectly, like a workout or cooking, which I now slot into my calendar. I will have an hour in the calendar for lunch and might decide on the day that I will only take 25 minutes if I need to prioritise any other activity, but I am very purposeful about it being an exception and it doesn't become the rule.
A: That’s exactly how I feel, I feel tempted to join a meeting where I am a participant and also cook lunch at the same time, just to make sure I am 100% efficient, but I hardly ever feel efficient doing both. Are you saying this is not the best approach?
M: From my own experience at the start of lockdown, that’s the worst approach. Doing both things at the same time means you’re not going to give either the time necessary to get results. At the start of lockdown, I used to have my daughter in the room with me where I was working and she was doing her homework. It took me a week to decide that’s not the best of both worlds. I am not giving my daughter my undivided attention and I am also constantly interrupted by her questions, which I want to answer. So in my experience, the best thing is to slot your 8 office hours into your calendar. Make sure people are aware of your working hours and when you’re away, you’re 100% focused on that activity, instead of answering an email at the same time. I know this seems very difficult at first, but again, we are all in this together, it’s not going to be perfect, but we are adapting.
A: It sounds like you found the key to happiness in the new normal. What’s the biggest advantage you found in this new way of working?
M: Oh, I would say this is only the start, not the key to happiness. We all have to understand that we’re in this for the long run, so we need to create healthy new habits. Set yourself ambitious goals you can be proud of when you look back at this challenging time. In a few years' time we will be looking back at this as a time when we achieved great things despite the challenges we faced. For me, it’s great that I am working from my most comfortable place: my home. I can create a presentation on my sunbed, can answer emails from my couch, make a client call in my garden or balcony, while enjoying some fresh air. We all have times when we’re at our most productive and we now have the ability to slot those times into our calendar for deep thinking or creative activities instead of being stuck on our commute. This is truly how you can be in so much control of your time. Make the most of it!
(#LETSGO in Spanish)
*Snippets = Qualtricians use an internal system where they broadcast their priorities for the week in a brief overview called Snippets. Snippets are normally activities that are connected in some way to the achievement of our OKRs. You can learn more about the Snippets program in our highlight on Wisdom of the Crowd.