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Innovation Culture Bulletin: Taking time

Work & Lifestyle

As we approach the holiday season, we look at the value of having proper time off, the pros and cons of Sweden's 6-hour working day, and reexamine the idea of annual leave.

"I'm taking time away to dream, I'm taking time out to clean up my room, and when I clean up, my room will gleam, because dreams aren't as unreal as they seem." – Arthur Russell, "Time Away"

In our very first Innovation Culture Bulletin we explored the untapped creativity dormant in half-consciousness. Drowsiness, science suggests, loosens the grip of rationality, giving way to free association, which in turn enables us to see problems from a new perspective. We then revisited the idea in Back To Our Roots, and looked at how spending time in nature, disconnected from tech, can restore our mental alertness, and further strengthen our creativity and problem solving. Both bulletins show that “down time” is a serious factor in improving productivity.

The benefits of taking time off may be why Sweden recently saw a resurgence in popularity of the six-hour workday. One digital startup is now trialling the following schedule: staff work from 8:30-11:30, take a full hour for lunch, then work for another three hours before heading home around 3:30. These six hours can be flexible, but to make up for time, staff are asked to heighten their productivity in the office — staying away from social media, and leaving personal calls, emails, and tasks until they have left their desks. One employee enjoys doing work in her garden while it is still daylight, and others find more time to spend with their children.

But, for some, clocking off at 3.30 may seem increasingly difficult in today’s world where one is expected to be connected all of the time. Plus, what about off-the-clock causal encounters, which are crucial to building connections with fellow colleagues? For those who run their own businesses, this probably appears as a far-fetched fantasy, as unimaginable as John Maynard Keynes’ utopian 15-hour week.

In his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, Keynes argues that people would choose to have far more leisure if their material needs are satisfied—and this was made possible with year upon year of technological advances. While the essay is generally criticized for overlooking increasing inequality, this idea of choosing a system that offers more leisure time has possibly never been more relevant — especially when work emails now follow us around in our smartphones long after the office doors have closed.

In our Innovation Culture Bulletin Five, we suggest ways to help you, your employees, and your whole office value the act of — and feel good about — taking time off.

1. Deactivated emails. There is nothing worse than coming back from holiday and facing a mountain of unanswered emails. German automobile company Daimler now gives employees the option to disable their email accounts when they’re on holiday—senders are told that their email will be deleted, and asked to resend when the person returns. If you’re using Outlook, follow this simple guide to stop your account from receiving mail. An easier option is to add a note on your automated OOO, to say that emails sent during this time will be ignored.

2. Autonomy over vacation days. Virgin Group and Netflix are two companies that can often be found on the “most innovative businesses” list, and both have adopted the unlimited annual leave policy. The idea follows that by trusting employees to make the fairest decision about taking time off themselves, and not keeping track of their absence, employers focus on what employees accomplish, not how many days they’ve worked. It is likely too, that the scheme will see a boost in morale, creativity and productivity.

3. Respect others’ time off. One of the main reasons why we never stop working stems from the nature of globalized industries—it is always business hours somewhere in the world. That’s why workers often find no rest, receiving emails from clients across the world long after they’ve left the office. And though we can choose to turn off our email notifications, we can go a step further by being considerate of others’ working hours—it only takes minute to add in the various time zones in your Clock app.

4. What if I run my own business? For those who have their own startups, it can be daunting to take time off. But as many have found, taking a break can open up new perspectives and enable you to reflect on your business as a whole. Also, when the boss leaves, it can be empowering for the team, knowing that they have been trusted to make the right executive decisions, and push those who are usually quiet to speak up and act.

5. Encourage a healthy time-off dialogue. Try putting up a calendar in your office that showcases each employee’s holiday destination. Start an email thread or Slack conversation for exchanging travelling tips. Present a “shame trophy” for the person who has the most holiday days overdue. Hopefully, opening up this dialogue will encourage people to think more about taking time off, and remove the stigma that may sometimes be attached to it. Heighten your productivity leading up to your holidays, then retreat to your break guilt-free, holding close the knowledge that you’ve worked hard.

Our Spotify playlist this installment is, you guessed it, holiday inspired. As always, we look forward to hearing any ideas or anecdotes you may have.