Natural Sciences: The World Through Objective Lenses

The field of natural sciences, including disciplines like biology, physics, and chemistry, is celebrated for its precision and objectivity. One of the major strengths of the natural sciences is its reliance on empirical methodologies. These methods, grounded in direct observation or experiment, aim to unravel the laws of the natural world in a consistent, replicable manner. This consistency lends itself to predictions, allowing us to anticipate outcomes based on previous observations. For instance, if one understands the principles of gravity, one can predict the behaviour of objects in free fall.

However, while the rigour of the natural sciences is commendable, it is not without its limitations. The very objectivity that stands as its strength can sometimes limit its scope. The natural sciences primarily seek quantifiable results, which might exclude phenomena that are less tangible or not immediately observable.

Social Sciences: Decoding Human Complexity

Conversely, social sciences, spanning disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology, delve into the intricate realms of human behaviour and societies. Their strength lies in understanding, interpreting, and sometimes predicting human actions, reactions, and interactions. The social sciences best understand cultural, tradition, and individual psyche nuances.

Social scientists often employ qualitative research methods, which enable them to explore intricate human emotions, motivations, and behaviours that might not be easily quantifiable. For instance, while a natural scientist can tell us how the human brain reacts to certain stimuli, a social scientist might explain why a certain stimulus is perceived as positive in one culture and negative in another. But just as with natural sciences, the strengths of the social sciences can sometimes be their Achilles’ heel. While offering rich insights, the deep dive into human behaviour and societies can sometimes lack the objective rigour that characterises the natural sciences. The very subjectivity that provides depth can also lead to biases or interpretations that may not be universally applicable.

Bridging the Divide

While the differences between the natural and social sciences are clear, it’s essential to understand that they are two sides of the same coin. The natural sciences provide us with a broad understanding of our world, explaining the ‘how’ behind phenomena. In contrast, the social sciences provide context, delving into the ‘why’ behind human actions and interactions.

To get a holistic understanding of our world, choosing one over the other is not a matter of recognising the value in both. For instance, addressing global challenges such as climate change requires both empirical data from natural scientists and insights into human behaviour from social scientists.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration: A New Dawn

The crux of modern challenges lies in their multidimensionality. Consider public health issues such as the recent global pandemic. Understanding the virus’s biology (a realm of the natural sciences) is as crucial as understanding human behaviour, societal dynamics, and the cultural implications of interventions (all territories of the social sciences). Such complex issues cannot be effectively addressed without a harmonious collaboration between the two domains.

Advantages of Collaboration

  1. Holistic Solutions: Combining the methodologies and findings from both natural and social sciences can lead to comprehensive solutions that account for both the physical and socio-cultural dimensions of a problem. For instance, in environmental conservation, biological insights into an ecosystem can be enriched by anthropological knowledge about the indigenous communities living there.
  2. Innovation Through Integration: Often, ground-breaking discoveries are made at the intersection of disciplines. By understanding and integrating principles from both natural and social sciences, we can pioneer innovative solutions that wouldn’t be conceivable within the confines of a single discipline.
  3. Greater Societal Impact: Recommendations backed by empirical data and socio-cultural insights will likely be more accepted and impactful. Policies, interventions, or solutions that consider both the scientific facts and the human element tend to be more effective and sustainable.

Challenges in Collaboration

However, the path to effective interdisciplinary collaboration isn’t without hurdles.

  1. Differing Methodologies: As previously highlighted, natural sciences primarily employ empirical methods, emphasising quantifiable data and experiments. In contrast, social sciences often lean towards qualitative approaches, focusing on in-depth observations and interviews. Finding a common ground where both sets of methodologies are respected and integrated can be challenging. For instance, imagine a research team tackling an environmental issue. Natural scientists may conduct controlled experiments to measure the impact of pollution on a specific species. In contrast, social scientists may engage in ethnographic studies to understand how the affected community perceives and responds to these changes. Bridging these distinct approaches requires thoughtful coordination and compromise.
  2. Communication Barriers: The terms, words, and fundamental concepts used in these two fields can be quite different. Effective collaboration means bridging this communication gap, which often takes more time and effort. Imagine a biologist and a sociologist teaming up to study how urbanisation affects a local ecosystem. The biologist may use technical language to explain ecological processes, while the sociologist relies on social science terminology. They must clarify their terms and understand each other’s language to work together smoothly.
  3. Institutional Hurdles: Traditional academic and research institutions tend to organise themselves into separate natural and social sciences departments. Encouraging interdisciplinary research may mean changing established academic traditions and structures. Picture a university where departments neatly separate the natural and social sciences. When researchers from these two worlds want to collaborate, they might encounter resistance within the institution. A commitment to breaking down these barriers and creating an environment that supports interdisciplinary work is needed to overcome these obstacles.

Conclusion: Embracing the Future of Interdisciplinary Research

With their empirical precision, the natural sciences have irrefutably made an indelible mark on humanity, laying the foundations for many of our advancements, innovations, and discoveries. These sciences give us a clearer understanding of the physical world, from the infinitesimally small components of an atom to the vastness of the universe. They offer predictions and analyses that have, over centuries, revolutionised our very existence. However, in pursuing knowledge and understanding, we must not lose sight of the vital importance of the social sciences. The social sciences provide us with crucial insights into the human psyche, our cultures, and the intricate tapestry of societies and their evolutions. They arm us with the tools to imagine alternative futures and understand the profound impact of technological advancements on society, as was evident during the rise of steam power and its transformative effects on the world of work and leisure.

Furthermore, the social sciences are instrumental in public health, education, and societal well-being. For example, by examining our eating habits in the context of our environment, social scientists enable us to craft more effective, tailored health interventions. The influence of the social sciences also extends to education, where understanding students’ perspectives leads to more effective schooling practices.

Moreover, in an age of digital transformation, the social sciences stand guard over our democracies, examining the shifts from traditional media to digital platforms. They ensure that despite democratising information dissemination, critical analysis remains at the forefront, safeguarding our societies against misinformation.

Importantly, social sciences challenge our worldviews, offering fresh perspectives on topics ranging from feminism and ecology to broader societal movements. They encourage us to critically engage with our surroundings, whether it’s a museum visit or an online chat, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding of our global community.

In essence, while the natural sciences provide invaluable insights into the ‘how’ of our world, the social sciences delve into the ‘why’. The tapestry of human knowledge is woven with threads from both domains and to sideline one would be to deny ourselves a holistic understanding of our existence.

As individuals, we can foster collaboration by actively seeking interdisciplinary work opportunities within our fields or professions. By embracing the complementary strengths of the natural and social sciences, we contribute to a more informed, inclusive, and resilient global society better equipped to address the multifaceted challenges of our times.

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Collaboration: The Common Thread in Art, Science, and Business Success article by Shay Dalton

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1. Modern Leadership: Bridging Tradition and Innovation

Tokyo, a city where centuries-old temples stand alongside cutting-edge skyscrapers, exemplifies the merging of tradition with innovation. It paints a vivid picture of today’s leadership paradigm, where the challenge is to preserve age-old wisdom while embracing the agility demanded by modern times.

Take the example of Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. Her approach was not just anchored in advanced business strategies but was deeply influenced by her roots and traditional values. By penning personal notes to the parents of her executives, Nooyi demonstrated a unique synthesis of cultural respect and contemporary leadership—suggesting that the two aren’t mutually exclusive but can indeed complement each other.

Now, more than ever, leadership encompasses a broader range of skills and qualities. Cross-cultural understanding, for instance, has emerged as a pivotal asset. It’s not just about an American entrepreneur being fluent in Mandarin but understanding and navigating the nuances of global markets, appreciating cultural subtleties, and forging meaningful partnerships across borders.

Ethical leadership is another domain gaining prominence. Companies like Patagonia, led by visionaries like Rose Marcario in the past, have shown that responsible governance isn’t just about ticking corporate responsibility boxes. In fact, Patagonia has committed to donating 1% of its total sales to environmental organisations through its “1% for the Planet” initiative, amounting to over $89 million in donations since the program’s inception. This move is a testament to genuinely embedding sustainability and transparency into the core business strategy, setting a gold standard for other enterprises to emulate.

In places of innovation like Silicon Valley, the very definition of leadership is evolving. It’s not confined to boardrooms or dictated by tenure. Here, a brilliant idea can propel a young developer into a leadership position, proving that age is becoming less of a determinant. Instead, adaptability, innovative thinking, and a relentless drive are becoming the hallmarks of modern leaders.

This shift in leadership dynamics extends beyond the corporate sphere and into global governance. While individual leaders may have their strategies and legacies debated, certain qualities are universally revered. Steadfastness, principled decision-making, and genuine empathy are essential traits for effective leadership in our interconnected age.

In today’s organisational landscape, leadership is omnipresent, transcending hierarchies. Firms like Google underscore this, promoting a culture where leadership emerges from collaborative efforts, proactive initiatives, and shared responsibilities. As the business world becomes increasingly complex, understanding and adopting these multifaceted leadership approaches isn’t just commendable; it’s imperative for sustainable success.

2. Leadership: A Blend of Nature, Nurture, and Adaptation

In every organisation, each individual brings unique skills and perspectives. While each member’s contribution is vital, the leader, much like a conductor, brings together these diverse talents to create a cohesive and effective outcome. Today’s leaders harness their natural abilities and continually refine and develop new skills to lead effectively.

Leadership is a synergy of inherent traits and cultivated abilities at its core. Determination, decisiveness, and vision may be innate for many, but skills such as emotional intelligence underline the constant evolution and adaptation that the modern leadership landscape demands. The journey of Ratan Tata, who transformed the Tata Group into a global conglomerate, exemplifies this balance. His leadership displayed a mix of inherited business acumen and learned skills, showcasing the essential interplay of nature and nurture in leadership.

In our fast-changing corporate world, leaning solely on inherent strengths or past achievements doesn’t suffice. Leaders like Isabelle Kocher, the former CEO of Engie, one of the world’s largest utility companies, recognised the importance of adaptability and sustainability in modern leadership. Under her direction, Engie embarked on a radical transformation, moving away from fossil fuels and heavily investing in renewable energy sources and infrastructure. This bold shift was not just a business strategy but a reflection of Kocher’s vision for a sustainable future. She spearheaded efforts to divest from coal operations and led Engie to invest in innovative renewable energy projects, embracing the future of clean energy. Effective communication played a crucial role in this transition. Kocher was adept at relaying information and conveying her passion, vision, and purpose to her team at Engie and the broader public, emphasising the company’s commitment to a sustainable and environmentally responsible future.

Diverse approaches to leadership also paint the modern landscape. While some leaders may naturally exude authority, others bring forward the strength of collaboration, collective achievements, and mutual respect. Leadership in the realm of the arts, for instance, as demonstrated by Theaster Gates—a social practice installation artist—shows how leadership can transcend corporate and political boundaries, making waves in cultural and community contexts.

Leadership today is not just about a title or a position. It’s a harmonious blend of what one is born with and what one learns and adopts, all tuned to the evolving needs of organisations and societies. Two prominent leadership styles that have gained traction in this context are ‘laissez-faire’ and ‘transformational’ leadership.

The laissez-faire style, which is derived from the French term meaning to “let go”, allows team members significant autonomy in their work. Leaders like Steve Jobs and Steven Bartlett are often associated with this style. They trusted in their teams’ inherent creativity and drive, intervening only when necessary. Such an approach has its merits in industries that thrive on innovation and where the creative freedom of individuals is paramount.

On the other hand, transformational leadership, as embodied by figures like Richard Branson, inspires and motivates team members to exceed their own expectations and achieve a collective vision. These leaders are proactive, continuously challenging the status quo and instigating change to better the organisation. They foster an environment where both the leader and the team support each other’s growth and transformation.

Both these styles emphasise the shift in norms surrounding leadership today. It’s no longer about just directing or managing but about inspiring, trusting, and continuously evolving to meet the ever-changing demands of the modern world.

3. Shaping the Future: The Role of Proactive Leadership

Proactive leadership focuses on more than just addressing current challenges; it’s about actively planning and influencing the future. While entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are often highlighted, digging deeper and understanding the foundational principles that enable such forward-thinking actions is important.

One key concept from organisational psychology is ‘Psychological Safety’. Introduced by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, it describes an environment where team members feel secure in taking risks and expressing their ideas without fear of reprimand. Successful teams, like those at Google, have pinpointed Psychological Safety as a driving factor. When leaders cultivate this safe space, they express organisational values and encourage a culture where innovation can flourish.

This atmosphere of trust and openness is especially crucial in today’s interconnected world, where leadership actions are constantly scrutinised. Every decision and every mistake is magnified in the digital age. It underscores the idea that ethical behaviour isn’t just a commendable attribute—it’s vital. Leaders who prioritise psychological safety invariably pave the way for ethical leadership. In this scenario, proactive leadership revolves around upholding transparency and ensuring that decision-making is always rooted in strong ethics, allowing team members to communicate openly and act with integrity.

However, challenges such as persistent gender biases remind us that there’s still work to be done. Effective leadership recognises such biases and takes deliberate steps to address and overcome them, ensuring that potential is recognised and nurtured regardless of gender or background. For instance, the often-discussed gender pay gap shows that women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data. This reflects a systemic inequality and can damage psychological safety, as it conveys an implicit message that women’s contributions are less valuable. Proactive leadership recognises such biases and actively works to address and correct them, ensuring that every team member feels valued and heard. This atmosphere of trust and openness directly feeds into the broader principle of psychological safety, where individuals can communicate openly without fear.

In conclusion, proactive leadership is about foresight and action. It means navigating the present while laying strong foundations for the future, driven by a combination of psychological understanding and ethical commitment. Today’s leaders don’t just ride the waves—they help create them.

4. Crafting Your Leadership Path

Leadership is a unique journey, blending inherent qualities, acquired skills, and external influences. Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, advocated for pursuing passions and trusting one’s instincts. However, the leadership voyage extends beyond instinct. Like those by Daniel Goleman on emotional intelligence, ground-breaking studies highlight self-awareness as a keystone of effective leadership. Such understanding aids leaders in harnessing their strengths and addressing their vulnerabilities.

Adaptability is pivotal in the current age of rapid technological and societal changes. Management theories such as the Situational Leadership Model, developed by Hersey and Blanchard, emphasise that leaders must adjust their style based on the task and individual’s maturity. So, while the world moves quickly, aligning personal and organisational values ensures that leadership remains authentic and relevant.

Every leadership story is unique and shaped by personal aspirations, experiences, and trials. Recognising this, there’s a need to move beyond one-size-fits-all strategies. Customised leadership plans, tailored to individual paths and goals, prove more effective than generic formulas. A principle of economics, the Theory of Comparative Advantage, posits that individuals or entities should capitalise on their strengths. In the leadership context, this underscores focusing on one’s unique capabilities and value propositions. Furthermore, leaders aren’t isolated figures; they operate within complex organisational ecosystems. Just as a sailor must consider the sea’s currents and weather patterns, leaders must understand their organisational cultures. An environment fostering open dialogue, feedback, and continuous learning can catalyse a leader’s evolution. Conversely, restrictive cultures might pose challenges. But in both contexts, understanding and adeptly navigating these nuances differentiates good leaders from great ones.

In essence, leadership is not a linear path but a dynamic journey. It combines introspection, adaptation, and understanding of the larger organisational landscape. As the saying goes, it’s not just about the destination but the journey and how one travels it.

5. Visionaries to Tomorrow’s Leaders

Great leaders throughout history have consistently displayed adaptability, innovation, and a commitment to mentoring the next generation. Larry Page’s leadership at Google exemplified this. Rather than solely focusing on ideas, he emphasised nurturing talent, most notably by mentoring Sundar Pichai. This approach underscored the belief that a true leader’s legacy is in empowering successors. Apple’s resilience and ability to reinvent itself embody the “falling forward” concept — transforming challenges into opportunities. Amazon’s success story is a testament to adaptability, echoing Bruce Lee’s advice to be “like water,” — flexible, yet forceful. In the tech realm, Netflix’s pioneering use of AI and Microsoft’s emphasis on cloud computing under Satya Nadella highlight the importance of forward-thinking innovation, drawing parallels to historical visionaries like Tesla and Edison.

6. Cultural Harmony: Crafting the Future of Leadership

Satya Nadella’s transformative journey at Microsoft exemplifies the essence of a growth mindset, teaching us that true success isn’t solely about beginnings but rather the directions we’re willing to explore. With its relentless drive to innovate, Tesla embodies the spirit of pioneers who are never content with the status quo. Adobe’s culture of valuing feedback and continuous improvement is a testament to the belief that “iron sharpens iron,” highlighting the power of collective growth and learning. Similarly, Spotify’s commitment to inclusivity is not just a nod to diversity but a clear indication that the future of leadership mirrors and celebrates the myriad voices of society.

In essence, these examples underline that the modern leadership paradigm thrives on adaptability, continuous growth, and cultural harmony, emphasising that the best leaders not only lead but also listen, learn, and reflect the diverse tapestry of our global community.

7. Nurturing Leadership: Strategies, Collaboration, and Vision

Margaret Heffernan’s concept of “wilful blindness” refers to the deliberate decision to ignore or avoid inconvenient facts or realities, even when they are readily apparent. It underscores the importance of leaders being vigilant, aware, and attentive, breaking from conformity to foresee and address challenges. Salesforce’s culture, which champions innovation and disruption, mirrors the economic principle of ‘creative destruction’ proposed by economist Joseph Schumpeter, where innovative methods and ideas replace old ways of doing things. Reflecting on the management theories of Peter Drucker, he emphasised that “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” As emerging leaders design their journey, frameworks, like Amazon’s leadership principles, serve as contemporary iterations of timeless navigational tools — guiding leaders both on well-trodden paths and ventures into the unknown.

8. Future Leadership: Charting New Waters with Timeless Principles

Drawing from Charles Darwin’s insights, it’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. In the realm of leadership, this rings especially true. Traditional hierarchical models are yielding to a more collaborative and adaptive approach. The dawn of AI and the intricate dance of globalisation echo the words of economist John Maynard Keynes, emphasising the need to be versatile in the face of “animal spirits” or unpredictable elements in markets. Cybersecurity concerns today might parallel the challenges once posed by maritime pirates during the age of exploration, underscoring that while challenges evolve, the essence of leadership remains in navigating uncharted territories. Tomorrow’s leaders will not only ride the waves of technological change but also harness the diverse strengths of global teams and confront ethical quandaries in a deeply interconnected era guided by principles as old as leadership itself.

9. Leading Forward: Drawing from the Past, Shaping Tomorrow

Much like Rome, which wasn’t built in a day, leadership thrives on a foundation of age-old principles fused with modern foresight. This blend is reminiscent of the principles set forth by legendary strategist Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” – understanding the terrain, knowing oneself, and being fluid in response. Today’s urban jungles, from Tokyo to New York, encapsulate this harmony; they meld historical foundations with skyscrapers of ambition, symbolising the fusion of past wisdom with future vision. Leaders like Indra Nooyi exemplify this duality, resonating with the roots of ancient wisdom while spearheading an era of digital transformation. Leadership, therefore, isn’t a destination but an ongoing odyssey. Much like cities that reinvent while retaining their essence, leaders must be perpetual pioneers with an eye on the horizon and feet grounded in enduring values.

More on Trust

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Depending on who you listen to working from home is either proof of a declining work ethic – evidence of and contributor to a global malaise that is hampering productivity, decimating work culture and amplifying isolation and laziness – or it’s a much-needed break from overzealous corporate control, finally giving workers the autonomy to do their jobs when, where and how they want to, with some added benefits to well-being, job satisfaction and quality of work baked in.

Three years on from the pandemic that made WFH models ubiquitous, the practice’s status is oddly divisive. CEOs malign it. Workers love it. Like most statements around WFH, that analysis is over simplistic. So what’s the actual truth: is WFH good, bad or somewhere in between?

The numbers

Before the pandemic Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. By spring 2020 the figure was 60% [1]. Over the following year, it declined to 35% and is currently stabilised at just over 25% [2]. A 2022 McKinsey survey found that 58% of employed respondents have the option to work from home for all or part of the week [3].

In the UK, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics in February, between September 2022 and January 2023, 16% of the workforce still worked solely from home, while 28% were hybrid workers who split their time between home and the office [4]. Meanwhile, back in 1981, only 1.5% of those in employment reported working mainly from home [5].

The trend is clear. Over the latter part of the 20th century and earliest part of the 21st, homeworking increased – not surprising given the advancements to technology over this period – but the increase wasn’t drastic. With Covid, it surged, necessarily, and proved itself functional and convenient enough that there was limited appetite to put it back in the box once the worst of the crisis was over.

The sceptics

Working from home “does not work for younger people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation” and “it doesn’t work for culture.” That’s according to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon [6]. People who work from home are “phoning it in” according to Elon Musk [7]. In-person engineers “get more done,” says Mark Zuckerberg, and “nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together,” says Disney CEO Bob Iger [8].

Meanwhile, 85% of employees who were working from home in 2021 said they wanted a hybrid approach of both home and office working in future [9]. It seems there’s a clash, then, between the wants of workers and the wants of their employers.

Brian Elliott, who previously led Slack’s Future Forum research consortium and now advises executive teams on flexible work arrangements, puts the disdain for WFH from major CEOs down to “executive nostalgia” [10].

Whatever the cause, and whether merited or not, feelings are strong – on both sides. Jonathan Levav, a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor who co-authored a widely cited paper finding that videoconferencing hampers idea generation, received furious responses from advocates of remote-work. “It’s become a religious belief rather than a thoughtful discussion,” he says [11].

In polarised times, it seems every issue becomes black or white and we must each choose a side to buy into dogmatically. Given the divide seems to exist between those at the upper end of the corporate ladder and those below, it’s especially easy for the WFH debate to fall into a form of tribal class warfare.

Part of the issue is that each side can point to studies showing the evident benefits of their point of view and the evident issues with their opponents. It’s the echo-chamber effect. Some studies show working from home to be more productive. Others show it to be less. Each tribe naturally gravitates to the evidence that best suits their argument. Nuance lies dead on the roadside.

Does WFH benefit productivity?

The jury is still out.

An Owl Labs report on the state of remote work in 2021 found that of those working from home during 2021, 90% of respondents said they were at least at the same productivity level working from home compared to the office and 55% said they worked more hours remotely than they did at the office [12].

On the other end of the spectrum, a paper from Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, which reviewed existing studies on the topic, found that fully remote workforces on average had a reduced productivity of around 10% [13].

Harvard Business School professor Raj Choudhury, looking into government patent officers who could work from anywhere but gathered in-person several times a year, championed a hybrid approach. He found that teams who worked together between 25% and 40% of the time had the most novel work output – better results than those who spent less or more time in the office. Though he said that the in-person gatherings didn’t have to be once a week. Even just a few days each month saw a positive effect [14].

It’s not just about productivity though. Working from home can have a negative impact on career prospects if bosses maintain an executive nostalgia for the old ways of working. Studies show that proximity bias – the idea that being physically near your colleagues is an advantage – persists. A survey of 800 supervisors by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2021 found that 42% percent said that when assigning tasks, they sometimes forget about remote workers [15].

Similarly, a 2010 study by UC Davis professor Kimberly Elsbach found that when people are seen in the office, even when nothing is known about the quality of their work, they are perceived as more reliable and dependable – and if they are seen off-hours, more committed and dedicated [16].

Other considerations

It’s worth noting other factors outside of productivity that can contribute to the bottom line. As Bloom states, only focusing on productivity is “like saying I’ll never buy a Toyota because a Ferrari will go faster. Well, yes, but it’s a third the price. Fully remote work may be 10% less productive, but if it’s 15% cheaper, it’s actually a very profitable thing to do” [17].

Other cost-saving benefits of a WFH or hybrid work model include potentially allowing businesses to downsize their office space and save on real estate. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) estimated that increases in remote work in 2015 saved it $38.2 million [18].

Minimising the need for commuting also helps ecologically. The USPTO estimates that in 2015 its remote workers drove 84 million fewer miles than if they had been travelling to headquarters, reducing carbon emissions by more than 44,000 tons [19].

A hybrid model

Most businesses now tend to favour a hybrid model. Productivity studies, including Bloom’s that found the 10% productivity drop from fully remote working, tend to concede there’s little to no difference in productivity between full-time office staff and hybrid workers. 47% of American workers prefer to work in a hybrid model [20]. In the UK, it’s 58% [21]. McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey found that when given the chance to work flexibly, 87% of people take it [22].

However, as Annie Dean, whose title is “head of team anywhere” at software firm Atlassian, notes: “For whatever reason, we keep making where we work the lightning rod, when how we work is the thing that is in crisis” [23].

Choudhary backs this up, saying, “There’s good hybrid – and there’s terrible hybrid” [24]. It’s not so much about the model as the method. Institutions that put the time and effort into ensuring their home and hybrid work systems are well-defined and there’s still room for discussion, training and brainstorming – all the things that naysayers say are lost to remote working – are likely to thrive.

That said, New Yorker writer Cal Newport points out that firms that have good models in place (what he calls “agile management”) are few and far between. Putting such structures in place is beyond the capability of most organisations. “For those not benefiting from good (“Agile”) management,” he writes, “the physical office is a necessary second-best crutch to help firms get by, because they haven’t gotten around to practising good management [25].”

The future

Major CEOs may want a return to full-time office structures, but a change seems unlikely. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Home and hybrid working is popular with employees, especially millennials and Gen Z. As of 2022 millennials were the largest generation in the workforce [26]; their needs matter.

The train is only moving in one direction – no amount of executive nostalgia is going to get it to turn back. It seems a hybrid model is the future, and a healthy enough compromise.

References

[1] https://www.economist.com/special-report/2021/04/08/the-rise-of-working-from-home
[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2023/03/29/why-working-from-home-is-here-to-stay/
[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/real-estate/our-insights/americans-are-embracing-flexible-work-and-they-want-more-of-it
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/14/working-from-home-revolution-hybrid-working-inequalities
[5] https://wiserd.ac.uk/publication/homeworking-in-the-uk-before-and-during-the-2020-lockdown/
[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[7] https://hbr.org/2023/07/tension-is-rising-around-remote-work
[8] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[9] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/businessandindividualattitudestowardsthefutureofhomeworkinguk/apriltomay2021
[10]
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[12] https://owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2021/
[13] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[14] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[15] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[16] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[17]

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[18] https://hbr.org/2020/11/our-work-from-anywhere-future#:~:text=Benefits%20and%20Challenges,of%20enhanced%20productivity%20and%20engagement
[19] https://hbr.org/2020/11/our-work-from-anywhere-future#:~:text=Benefits%20and%20Challenges,of%20enhanced%20productivity%20and%20engagement.
[20] https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/policy-brief/hybrid-future-work#:~:text=Hybrid%20is%20the%20future%20of%20work%20Key%20Takeaways,implications%20of%20how%20and%20when%20employees%20work%20remotely.
[21] https://mycreditsummit.com/work-from-home-statistics/
[22] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/real-estate/our-insights/americans-are-embracing-flexible-work-and-they-want-more-of-it
[23] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[24] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenamcgregor/2023/08/19/the-war-over-work-from-home-the-data-ceos-and-workers-need-to-know/
[25] https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2023/03/29/why-working-from-home-is-here-to-stay/
[26] https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2023/01/10/whats-the-future-of-remote-work-in-2023/

Introduction

The coveted office window seat has been the subject of much debate and envy among coworkers. But why is it so popular? As it turns out, science has a lot to say about our preference for this prime piece of real estate. From enhancing productivity and creativity to benefiting physical health, the perks of a window seat go far beyond the view. In this blog post, we’ll explore the scientific explanations behind the allure of the office window seat, sharing some amusing stories along the way.

The Power of Natural Light

It’s no secret that natural light can do wonders for our mood and well-being. Research has shown that exposure to daylight is linked to increased serotonin levels, which in turn can boost happiness, attentiveness, and productivity (Cajochen et al., 2000). In one office-based study, employees with windows in their workspaces reported higher job satisfaction and improved mental health compared to those without access to natural light (Matusiak et al., 2019).

A study conducted by Heschong (2003) explored the impact of daylight on human performance and satisfaction in various settings, including offices. The findings suggested that employees with access to daylight, even without a captivating view, experienced increased productivity and overall well-being. This supports the idea that the benefits of natural light, such as improved mood and performance, can be more significant than having an inspiring view from the window.

Cognitive Benefits of Gazing into the Distance

Staring into the distance is often seen as a sign of daydreaming or lack of focus, but in reality, it can be an essential mental break that leads to increased creativity and productivity. Research has demonstrated that brief periods of mind-wandering help facilitate problem-solving and creative thinking (Baird et al., 2012). Furthermore, being able to gaze out of a window provides the opportunity to rest our eyes and reduce eye strain, which is especially important for those who spend long hours in front of a computer screen (Rosenfield, 2011).

The Connection between Nature and Well-being

The view from a window seat often provides a glimpse of nature, whether it’s a bustling city park or a serene landscape. Studies have shown that even brief exposure to nature can positively impact our mental health and well-being (Bratman et al., 2015). In one study, participants who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting experienced reduced anxiety and improved cognitive function compared to those who walked in an urban environment (Bratman et al., 2015).

A study conducted by Kaplan (1995) found that exposure to natural settings, even through a window, can have restorative effects on individuals experiencing mental fatigue. In this study, an accountant who felt overwhelmed and stressed during the busy tax season was relocated to a window seat with a view of a small garden. They discovered that taking short breaks to observe the birds and plants helped them feel more relaxed and increased their focus throughout the day.

The Social Status of the Window Seat

Let’s not forget the social aspect of the window seat. Being situated near a window often signals a certain level of status within the office hierarchy (Vinchur et al., 1998). It’s not uncommon for employees to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they’ve earned the right to sit by the window.

So, the next time you find yourself envious of a colleague’s window seat, remember that science is on your side. Natural light, cognitive benefits, and connections to nature all contribute to the allure of the office window seat. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be lucky enough to snag that coveted spot and enjoy its perks.

References

Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Mrazek, M. D., Kam, J. W. Y., Franklin, M. S., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1117-1122. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612446024

Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(28), 8567-8572. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510459112

Cajochen, C., Münch, M., Kobialka, S., Kräuchi, K., Steiner, R., Oelhafen, P., Orgül, S., & Wirz-Justice, A. (2000). High sensitivity of human melatonin, alertness, thermoregulation, and heart rate to short wavelength light. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 90(3), 1311-1316. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.90.3.8550785

Heschong, L. (2003). Daylighting and human performance. ASHRAE Journal, 45(6), 65-67. Retrieved from https://www.techstreet.com/ashrae/standards/ashrae-journal-june-2003-volume-45-issue-6?product_id=1722476

Kaplan, R. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2

Matusiak, B., Lyssenko, L., & Sakellaris, I. (2019). Window view, indoor daylight climate, and office occupants’ satisfaction, mood, and well-being. Building and Environment, 149, 347-360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2018.12.017

Rosenfield, M. (2011). Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 31(5), 502-515. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834.x

Vinchur, A. J., Schippmann, J. S., Switzer, F. S., & Roth, P. L. (1998). A meta-analytic review of predictors of job performance for salespeople. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(4), 586-597. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.83.4.586

In today’s fast-paced world, productivity has emerged as a critical aspect of our daily lives. The conventional approach to productivity involves time management, but recent research indicates that energy management is a more sustainable method for improving productivity and well-being. By utilising insights from various disciplines, such as organisational psychology, social psychology, nutrition, mental health, stress management, fitness, and focus, individuals can devise strategies to systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. This article will delve into the importance of managing energy levels and present real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully adopted energy management strategies.

Energy Management and Organisational Psychology:

Organisational psychology has demonstrated that individuals who efficiently manage their energy levels are more productive and engaged in their work. Establishing clear goals, prioritising tasks, and incorporating short breaks throughout the day can help sustain motivation and energy levels. For instance, Google has implemented a program called “Jolly Good Fellow,” allowing employees to take time off to work on personal projects, subsequently increasing creativity and productivity in the workplace.

Social Psychology and Energy Optimisation:

Social interactions play a vital role in energy management. Positive social support from colleagues and supervisors can enhance work engagement, job satisfaction, and overall energy levels. For example, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, encourages employees to partake in outdoor activities during work hours, resulting in increased productivity and employee satisfaction. Moreover, a study conducted by Halbesleben & Buckley (2004) found that employees who perceived high levels of social support at work experienced lower levels of fatigue and burnout.

Nutrition and Mental Health:

A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining energy levels throughout the day. Consuming regular, nutrient-dense meals with complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins can fuel the body and brain. A study by the Harvard Business Review discovered that employees who ate healthier meals had a 25% higher job performance than those who did not. Additionally, addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, or chronic stress can improve overall well-being and energy management. General Mills’ meditation program exemplifies this, as it reduced stress and increased employee productivity.

Stress Management and Fitness:

Regular physical activity is proven to boost energy levels and mood. Incorporating exercise into daily routines can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and increase overall energy. The law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe introduced a “wellness program” that includes exercise classes and meditation, leading to a 50% reduction in sick days among employees. Furthermore, practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can help control stress and maintain energy levels throughout the day.

Focus and Avoiding Distractions:

Distractions can rapidly drain energy reserves, making it challenging to maintain focus and productivity. Techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused intervals followed by short breaks, can help minimise distractions and optimise energy levels. This method is particularly useful for individuals who struggle with procrastination or find it difficult to concentrate for extended periods. Notably, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway used the Pomodoro Technique to help him write his books.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, managing energy rather than time is a more sustainable approach to enhancing productivity and well-being. By incorporating strategies from various disciplines, individuals can systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. Real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully implemented energy management strategies demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques in improving productivity and well-being. Taking care of oneself, including eating well, practising stress management techniques, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding distractions, is essential for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the day.

References:

  1. Watanabe, N., Furukawa, T. A., Horikoshi, M., Katsuki, F., Narisawa, T., Kumachi, M., … & Cuijpers, P. (2018). A mindfulness-based stress management program and treatment as usual for university students with psychological distress: A randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 48(14), 2327-2336.
  2. Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
  3. Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The Job Demands‐Resources model: state of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.
  4. Chatterjee, S., & Yilmas, E. (2019). Nutrition and Well-being: A Systematic Review of the Impact of Food Choices on Mental Health. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 46(4), 674-690.
  5. Pronk, N. P., Katz, A. S., Lowry, M., & Payfer, J. R. (2012). Reducing occupational sitting time and improving worker health: the Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. Preventing Chronic Disease, 9, E154.
  6. Cirillo, F. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work. Penguin.

When asked how he went bankrupt, a character in Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises responds, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” This description encapsulates so many of the changes that emerged as a result of the pandemic, most especially within the workplace. Plenty of the shifts we saw to working practices—such as introducing some form of home or hybrid working as standard—have already become accepted1 as part of the much-touted “new normal”. Others are still evolving, not least when it comes to the relationship between businesses and their employees’ health and wellbeing. One practice that has emerged as potentially pivotal in bridging the gap between personal welfare and workplace performance is that of mindfulness.

Mindfulness

The Oxford Mindfulness Center2 defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.” Dan Harris, author of 10 Percent Happier3, describes it even more plainly. “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions”. Whatever definition you use, the consensus is that mindfulness offers an array of benefits on a personal and professional level. Which is why it’s no wonder business innovators—some before the pandemic, many after— have chosen to bring it into the workplace.

Tipping point

A 2019 survey by LinkedIn4 found that nearly half of workers feel stress in their jobs, with 70% of them feeling it as a result of their workload and their work-life balance. Meanwhile Gallup5 found that 23% of employees feel burnout at work very often or always, and a further 44% reported feeling it sometimes. The fact that these findings are from before the pandemic makes clear that businesses had been dancing on cracks for a long time before the ultimate disaster struck, and that the system (or at least a stark number of the employees within it) were teetering on the brink. To call the pandemic the straw that broke the camel’s back would be to minimize its devastation. But let’s face it, the camel was staggering and stumbling for a long while before whispers started emerging from Wuhan.

Some businesses could see that. It’s why many of the leading corporate innovators had been incrementally introducing mindfulness techniques to their work environment through the late 2000s and 2010s6. Apple, Google, Twitter, and a whole host of other Silicon Valley movers and shakers were championing everything from meditation rooms to in-office yoga and mindfulness classes through mindful lunches. That was Hemmingway’s gradually. Then, in March 2020, came the suddenly. Worker welfare became unignorable. Mindfulness emerged as a clear solution.

Mindfulness productivity gains and profit

Reducing burnout and caring for worker well-being are some of the benefits mindfulness offers businesses. But to put the major tech players’ adoption of such techniques down purely to concern for their personnel may be to give them undeserved credit. While worker welfare likely did factor into their reasoning, they were no doubt also influenced by the numbers surrounding mindfulness’ productivity gains.

Aetna, a US health insurer that trained 13,000 employees in mindfulness practices, estimated an annual productivity improvement of around $3,000 per employee, as well as a reported reduction in stress levels of 28%7. Meanwhile SAP, a leading German software company, saw a 200%8 return on investment, based on data from a survey undertaken with the help of 650 SAP employees who underwent mindfulness training through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute9 (SIYLI). Awareness around well-being and mental health has increased in prominence across society as a whole and the business world is no different, but it would be naïve to pretend the bottom-line numbers weren’t a major contributory factor—if not the primary one— in mindfulness’ corporate ascendency.

Origins

Of course, to give Silicon Valley credit for the benefits of mindfulness would be myopic in the extreme. These ideas are of an Eastern origin and have been around for millennia. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR10 (mindfulness-based stress reduction), is often attributed with bringing mindfulness techniques westwards in the 1970s. Though it’s the advent of more modern technology—best exemplified by the then-unimaginable convenience of yoga and meditation apps— that has contributed significantly to the practice’s meteoric rise.

Spirituality integrates with business

While it may be tempting to presume that utilising these grand spiritual ideas for corporate agendas was a result of this move westwards, instigated by the monetise-at-all-costs instincts of Mega Capitalism, that assumption would be wrong. East Asian corporations such as Panasonic and Toyota have long been taking advantage of ancient teachings in a corporate context11. In fact, “zen”, a widely recognised if less widely understood concept relating to (and deriving from the Sanskrit translation of) meditation, is the foundation of the term “kaizen”.

Kaizen12 is a commonplace piece of business terminology in Japan, meaning change for the better or continuous improvement. It involves making the work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, ensuring employee engagement, and making a job more fulfilling, less tiring, and safer. Its prevalence demonstrates that the marriage between mindfulness and corporate practice is no recent (or exclusively western) thing.

The benefits

When looking at the benefits mindfulness offers, it’s easy to see why it’s an appealing prospect to all parties, east and west. Mindfulness has been found to help reduce emotional exhaustion13, to help foster compassion and empathy14, to improve decision making15, to reduce aggression16, to generate greater attention and focus17, to promote divergent thinking18, to reduce stress, and to improve short term memory19. It is a seemingly endless list of benefits, each impacting instrumental parts of our day-to-day life, personal and professional. What’s more, research20 shows that only short mindfulness sessions are necessary to achieve such results, rather than any dramatic lifestyle overhaul. A matter of minutes each day is enough. It’s no wonder businesses see it as an easy win. Even the US army is using mindfulness21 training to help soldiers better prepare for and deal with stress, before and after deployment.

The science

How mindfulness works and how it impacts—and potentially alters—our brain has unsurprisingly been the intrigue of scientists and academics the world over. In their book Altered Traits22, Daniel Goleman, a Harvard psychologist, and Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that mindfulness practices such as breathing meditation are associated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, the region of the brain that initiates a response to stress. Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast23 in Australia found that mindfulness training increased the efficiency of brain pathways that process information coming in from the senses. In other words, participants in their study were found to literally see information more accurately24. The idea that mindfulness can genuinely re-wire our brains continues to enthral, and the evidence is mounting.

Going forwards

Scott Shute25, former Head of Mindfulness and Compassion at LinkedIn, author of The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World from the Inside Out, and upcoming guest on The 1% Podcast26, wants to mainstream mindfulness—in the workplace and beyond. Scott says that we should treat mindfulness in the same way we trat our physical health. “Fifty years ago, physical exercise was a strange thing. Now, every company feels good if they can provide gyms at work.”27 His argument is that in the same way we make time to exercise or go out of our way to eat nutritiously, we should also make the effort to strengthen our minds.

Considering the wide-scale proven benefits, the relatively little effort needed to achieve them, and the ubiquity of mindfulness apps28 offering free trials for curious parties, now feels as good a time as ever to start your mindfulness journey. One that will likely provoke change in two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

More on burnout

More on mindfulness

References

1 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/ishybridworkingheretostay/2022-05-23

2 https://www.oxfordmindfulness.org/

3 https://www.tenpercent.com/

4 https://www.linkedin.com/business/learning/blog/career-success-tips/stress-at-work-report-who-is-feeling-it-the-most-and-how-to-com

5 https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx

6 https://www.wired.com/2013/06/meditation-mindfulness-silicon-valley/

7 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/unleashing-power-of-mindfulness-in-corporations

8 https://www.mindful.org/mindful-working-the-best-practices-for-bringing-mindfulness-to-work/

9 https://siyli.org/

10 https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction-mbsr/

11 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/unleashing-power-of-mindfulness-in-corporations

12 https://www.investopedia.com/terms/k/kaizen.asp

13 https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&referer=https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_mindful_managers_make_happier_employees&httpsredir=1&article=4319&context=lkcsb_research

14 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/mindfulness-meditation-empathy-compassion/398867/

15 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140212112745.htm

16 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118221

17 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315/full

18 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-014-0352-9

19 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/unleashing-power-of-mindfulness-in-corporations

20 https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/mindfulness-at-work/

21 https://www.army.mil/article/149615/improving_military_resilience_through_mindfulness_training

22 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34272471-altered-traits

23 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78343-w

24 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-mindfulness-change-your-brain-202105132455

25 https://www.scottshute.com/

26 https://steeringpoint.ie/the-1-podcast/

27 https://www.mindful.org/mindful-working-the-best-practices-for-bringing-mindfulness-to-work/]

28 https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-apps/

Game of Thrones, and its Song of Ice and Fire source material before it, connected with viewers around the globe for a variety of reasons. Arguably first among them was escapism. For an hour each week, viewers would disconnect from their lives and focus instead on this intoxicating fantasy realm, replete with magic, medieval brutality, and dragons. But even the most seemingly imaginative of otherworldly distractions requires some ties to everyday reality to land with an audience. For Games of Thrones, one such stark (and Stark) pronouncement that permeated the zeitgeist and became an everyday part of the cultural lexicon was the oft-repeated, ever-ominous assertion: Winter is coming. As clocks turn back in most of the western world, we must contend with the fact that, though we are still in the throes of autumn, winter has come, or at the very least is coming, bringing with it the annual productivity malaise that accompanies the season of darkness.

Winter is the least productive season for businesses. That’s according to research from project management software company Redbooth, published in Forbes magazine1. The company analysed their data over a four-year period and found that in winter users completed 22.8% of their tasks on average, compared with 27.3% in the autumn, 25.4% in the summer and 24.5% in the spring. A report by British Summer Fruits2 found that during the colder months, 74% of people find it harder to get out of bed for work, while 37% are far more likely to call in sick. In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens proclaimed that, “Darkness is cheap.” Not, it seems, if you’re running a business contending with a seasonal productivity slump.

Why does winter hamper our productivity?

Some of the reasons for our drop off in productivity through the winter months are clear to all. The first is that, naturally, we get less light during winter than we do during the other seasons as there are less hours of sunlight. This minimises the amount of Vitamin D we receive, which can negatively impact3 our mood and performance. The darkness, paired with the cold, also has a motivational impact. We are less inclined to get out of bed and go for a pre/post-work walk or run (or whatever wellness habit floats your boat) on a dark, wet and windy day than we are in the height of summer. And this kickstarts a cycle. As we become less active, we become lazier. And laziness only breeds more laziness. Lack of exercise leads to lack of motivation to eat well, which in turn gets made worse by the cold weather that makes filling comfort foods a more appetising prospect than that mid-November salad. The downward spiral becomes self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. Once our routine is broken, it becomes incredibly difficult to get back on the wagon. At least until the frost melts and we’re returned to the hope of spring.

There are scientific reasons for our winter malaise too. Darkness—or more precisely, lack of natural light—is proven to have a significant impact on our mood, alertness and general well-being4. Our body clocks, or circadian rhythms, are naturally tied to the sun’s hours. In winter, we often rise in darkness, throwing our bodies into what Greg Murray, professor of psychology at Swinburne University in Australia, calls “phase delay5. Phase delay means that our circadian clocks are nudged later during winter, so that piercing iPhone alarm is going to feel much crueller the day after the clocks go back than it did before. Bad news for the annual optimists preaching the virtues of “the extra hour in bed”.

That’s not to mention the one in fifteen people who deal with seasonal affective disorder6 (SAD), a number that may be on the rise7. For sufferers of SAD, winter brings about prolonged mood changes and oftentimes spells of severe and debilitating depression. The point, if it weren’t already clear, is that the effect winter has on our mood and performance is profound. But there are steps we can take to minimise darkness’ damage and try to keep on track.

Battling the elements

Let’s start with the body. In order to counteract the lack of vitamin D, we’d be well advised to take supplements through the winter8 (and maybe through other parts of the year). Which is not to say supplements can suffice for the real thing. We should absolutely try to get outside during daylight hours as much as possible. That can be a run or walk on our lunch break, or pre-work for the early risers. In fact, one benefit of the ubiquity of home and hybrid-working patterns in the wake of the pandemic is that it gives us greater autonomy over our working schedules, meaning we may feel more comfortable putting work on hold to get outside during working hours than we would if doing so required leaving an absent desk in the view of potentially disapproving colleagues and bosses.

In the same way we might subsidise the vitamins and nutrients we receive from natural light, so too might we subsidise natural light itself. Those who suffer from SAD will likely already be familiar with SAD lamps9, a form of light therapy designed to replicate daylight and trick the body into releasing serotonin in the same manner it would through warmer months. This concept is no longer reserved exclusively for sufferers of SAD, with many leading lighting brands now offering some form of bio-adaptive lighting10—designed to work in tandem with the circadian rhythm— that mimics the sun’s natural patterns and helps the body react to artificial light as it would to the natural variety it is impersonating. This can improve our mood, alertness, sleep pattern, and even our creativity. Similarly, such lights can work as alarm clocks, simulating the look and feel of sunrise to wake us up naturally, removing the bleakness of surrounding blackness from our waking experience so we’re less likely to start our day in a negative mindset.

Light and its benefits aside, what can you do to enhance productivity? Tick off tasks first thing. Mark Twain famously said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” He was being facetious, of course, but studies show that ticking off a major task early11 can set us up on the path for achieving more throughout the day. Others agree that completing tasks early is the way to go but argue that it’s better to accomplish a few small, achievable tasks12 first thing rather than anything monumental, simply to get your mind in the habit of getting things done and feeling productive. Neither option will be right for everyone, so the trick is finding which works for you.

If you already have a routine heading into the winter months, don’t let it slip. It’s all too easy to let those first bitter mornings destabilise an established, fully functional set of morning habits and break the cycle. And starting a routine again is far harder than keeping one up. If you do happen to slip up, don’t worry. According to a study13 published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, missing any single day of a particular habit has no impact on your long-term ability to stick to the habit. But as Atomic Habits author James Clear notes14, “the most important thing is not to prevent mistakes altogether, but to avoid making a mistake twice in a row.” So, if you falter, as we all do, rather than castigating yourself, instead focus your attention on avoiding the second mistake.

Maintaining a routine through the winter months could be key to not letting your standards drop off, so if you have one, keep it going. If you don’t, it’s never too late to get started. As the entrepreneur Jim Rohn notes, “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”

Let routine bring some light to your winter—and keep the dark slump at bay.

References

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/priceonomics/2017/12/08/when-do-people-actually-get-work-done/?sh=27502a742e5d

2 https://palife.co.uk/news/winter-slump-productivity-suffers-in-the-colder-months/

3 https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d

4 https://www.business.com/articles/flick-of-a-switch-how-lighting-affects-productivity-and-mood/

5 https://www.wired.com/story/science-explains-why-we-should-work-shorter-hours-winter/

6 https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/overview/

7 https://www.healthline.com/health-news/more-people-may-experience-seasonal-affective-disorder-this-year

8 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vitamin-d-supplementation-during-winter-phe-and-nice-statement/statement-from-phe-and-nice-on-vitamin-d-supplementation-during-winter#:~:text=Everyone%20is%20advised%20to%20take,of%20falls%20in%20older%20people.

9 https://www.healthline.com/health/sad-lamp

10 https://www.interact-lighting.com/global/capabilities/bio-adaptive-lighting

11 https://theproductiveengineer.net/hardest-or-easiest-work-first-what-the-research-shows/#:~:text=However%2C%20other%20experts%20believe%20that,and%20work%20their%20way%20up.

12 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/sep/07/change-your-life-procrastination-burkeman

13 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674

14 https://jamesclear.com/second-mistake

Finding the right leadership talent is increasingly important in developing competitive advantage. Research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that those with superior talent strategies will have a greater likelihood of excelling in their sectors. Getting recruitment right is seen as critical to this. These findings are also supported by respected management consultancy firm, McKinsey & Company. McKinsey undertook research identified that, “Superior talent is up to eight times more productive”. What is more, the productivity gap between average performers and high performers is at its greatest when job roles are of very high complexity – such as in the case of executive roles.

Choosing between executive search services in Ireland essential, especially since the right leadership in key roles incfluence the productivity of your teams.

In Ireland, the executive search process has distinct differences from that in other nations. This is due to the culture and importance of local networks. Understanding local company knowledge is key to a successful executive search in Ireland. The information that follows will help with understanding how the executive search process works in Ireland, and how this differs to other places.

A great executive search Ireland is made up of 12 steps, and these are now explained.

Executive search in Ireland – the 12 steps

Step 1: Establish client needs

At the outset, a meeting between the client and the executive search team is required to identify client requirements. These will include an overview of the role and time frame for filling the post. The team will ask questions to find out more about the company. They will also probe the client to gain an understanding of first thoughts about the type of person who might be a good match for the role.

Step 2: Analysis phase

Further analysis is required at this early stage to maximise the search opportunity. The executive search firm will analyse the company culture to ensure the candidate selected will be an appropriate fit. This is one of the most important factors, supported by a study showing that 84% of recruiters believe this to be the case. Other than this, further analysis may also include introductions to others in the executive team to gain a clear understanding of the personality profile needed to succeed.

Step 3: Clarify budget

Understanding the benefit structure for Executive Searches in Ireland is very helpful in developing the right budget. In turn, having the right budget is important so that the role will be compelling for the right candidates. The search firm can help advise the client in this area to ensure the benefit structure is right for the position. Expertise in the Irish recruitment market is very beneficial in this regard.

Step 4: Development of a person specification

Following the analysis the person specification is built. This includes key information that will help with an executive search in Ireland.  This is especially important for leadership positions, as they will influence the culture and productivity of your team. It achieves this by pinpointing the essential and desirable skills and qualifications that are sought. It also describes the role and responsibilities that the successful candidate will perform.

Getting this right is critical as it shapes the whole recruitment process. It also needs to attract optimal candidates and deter those that are unsuitable. When done well, this document helps to define the employer value proposition. A well thought out person specification will provide indicators to potential candidates about the company’s vision, what it values and the type of person that will succeed.

Step 5: Scan networks

Local networks can be a very useful source of information for executive search in Ireland. Through drawing on these, it may be possible to identify suitable targets that would be a good fit. A locally based firm with a strong network has the advantage in knowing where to look. Our services are often more effective because of our well established network of leadership talent. Given that private networking is a key tool that executive recruitment firms use in identifying suitable candidates, it is worth asking some questions about the company’s networks before selecting a firm.

Step 6: Review local and international talent

Both local and international leadership talent opportunities should be reviewed. With a population of just 4.9 million, Ireland has a relatively small pool of leadership talent to draw on, and in some cases “glaring talent shortages. For this reason it is beneficial to consider international talent too. A good executive search team will have a network that includes both local and international leadership talent in a variety of sectors, or in the case of a specialised firm, in the industry they focus on.

If you are using an Executive Search Services Company in Ireland, make sure to ask them about their network.  This is one of the strongest points of working with Lincoln.

 Step 7: Build a short list

Further search strategy techniques are deployed to develop a suitable short list for the client. This requires market analysis and reviewing tools like LinkedIn to find candidates. The firm also scans its database of candidates to pinpoint suitable matches. Important areas of focus include whether the potential candidate is a good cultural fit, and the level of interest and commitment they may have towards this new opportunity. This helps with analysing turnover intentions. Given that the recruitment process is so expensive, this is very important. All of this research, along with the analysis of networks and local and international potential will be utilised to build and refine a short list of the right leadership talent.

Step 8: Candidate qualification and refinement of short list

Candidate qualification is required to narrow down possibilities. Through a meticulous matching process, the candidate list is whittled down to those that are a close fit. This includes interviews with potential candidates to establish capability and interest. A basic referencing process is also performed for any candidates that will be put forward.

Step 9: Handover of short list

One of our core services is to organize the list to make it efficient for you to conduct the next phase of hiring.  A short list is passed on to the client for the recruitment process to continue. By this point, there will be no more than five potential candidates. More detailed referencing checks are performed at this stage. Before the client makes a final decision, the executive search firm can weigh in if needed.

Step 10: Make offer

Once the client selects their candidate, the executive search firm will make an offer to that individual. At this level there is normally some negotiation around the benefits package and start dates, among other factors.  One of the services that your search  team can help with is going over these offer details. Good executive search firms will be experienced with helping the candidate and the company come to an agreement that works for both parties.

Step 11: Onboarding

One of the incremental services that the executive search firm may include is helping with onboarding process of your new leadership talent. This varies depending on the contract agreed with the executive search firm at the outset. Onboarding services are often seen as separate from recruitment, when in fact they are integral to the process. Recent research in Ireland shows that almost 50% of employees leave a job within a year. In a nation that is at near-full employment it is a job-seeker’s market. Getting onboarding right is important to help the candidate feel comfortable in the early days at the new firm, and to pinpoint any issues that arise in the initial period.

Step 12: Follow up

The very best executive search services includes one final step. This is follow up with the client and the candidate to review how it is going. Following up with both helps ensure satisfaction is achieved. Similarly to onboarding, it will help identify issues that might otherwise be hidden, leading to executive turnover if not addressed. Good follow up also allows the executive search firm to take on board any feedback and improve.

Conclusion

Following the 12 steps of executive search Ireland helps to ensure that the right candidate is hired. From having a clear understanding of the job role and person needed from the outset, through to onboarding and follow up, locally based executive search teams in Ireland are well-placed to help.

As a specialists executive search services firm in Ireland, we have the local knowledge that will ensure your executive search in Ireland runs smoothly. We can draw on our extensive local networks to help identify top talent for your executive team, no matter the industry. Get in touch to see how we can add value to your executive search process.