If we zoom in a bit on what this feels like for a typical employee at a typical company, things are pretty bleak. Employees increasingly feel isolated and alone, like they’re working in a silo that’s sealed off from the rest of the business. They pass by each other in the hallway without really understanding where each other fits in, or how they might complement each other’s role. Overwhelmingly we feel like we lack a shared sense of purpose.
This gets even more frustrating as organizations evolve and grow more complicated. That’s when daily tasks start to get more challenging. Simple things, like finding the right version of a document or understanding who reports to whom, suddenly take on a whole new dimension of complexity that wastes time and energy.
On top of this, people are dealing with information overload in the form of multiple chat applications, on all their devices, competing for their attention. They’re pestered throughout the day by emails and LinkedIn messages from unknown parties offering unknown services.
Even though technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible, the modern working world is getting more and more fragmented. It’s frustrating and it’s stressful. We spend a third of our lives at work and we deserve better. In short, our working life should be simpler.
Your working life
When I talk about “working life”, I’m not only referring to the time you spend at work. It’s the quality of that time spent too. Is that a positive or negative experience for you? Do you feel like you could be working more efficiently? Do you see ways your employer is neglecting things like community, values, or your own employee experience?
Your working life ideally includes the following:
Personal enjoyment and self-fulfillment
Able to do the tasks required of you without encountering obstacles
Successfully navigating the complexity of your organization
Collaborating with and learning from colleagues
Understanding your role in the organization and its impact
A greater sense of purpose or meaning
Identifying and aligning with a set of values
Feeling like you belong
Able to reach your full potential
But the fragmented nature of modern workplaces can make achieving a quality employee experience extremely challenging. Instead, we might feel alienated, confused, frustrated, unseen, not to mention overworked and stressed out. When this happens, people tend to burn-out and turnover rates sky-rocket. It’s a subtle, gradual effect, but over time a negative working life can completely transform the landscape of your workplace.
Simplifying your working life
Finding a way to simplify your working life can mean a lot of different things depending on the type of work you do, but primarily it’s about cutting through the confusion of complex organizations, finding room to focus, forming bonds with colleagues, and aligning people with the mission they’re all a part of. In short, it’s about empowering people and creating more cohesive teams.
The benefits for employees and organizations alike are pretty obvious (we’ve covered this many times on this blog), but getting there is easier said than done. For some of us, the fragmented nature of work and the constant barrage of irrelevant information is deeply ingrained in the culture and structure of organizations.
Some companies, for example, want all the latest tools and gadgets, no matter how distracting (and expensive) they are. Others prefer to store their shared files a particular way, not because it made those files easier to find, but because they got a deal. Some want their offices to look and feel a certain way, without ever considering whether or not it’s diminishing their people’s experience and ability to do good work.
In other words, some employers like to design a certain way of working rather than paying attention to the way people actually work and going from there.
Because of this, the way your workplace operates might completely preclude the option to work more simply.
But there are steps you can take as an individual to limit the effects of fragmentation and confusion that don’t involve entirely changing the way your organization runs.
Set up boundaries
Unplugging yourself from potentially distracting aspects of your work is one way to simplify things. I don’t mean ripping your computer from the wall and tossing it down the stairs (please don't do this). Instead, this means setting up some reasonable (manager-approved) boundaries around the way you prefer to work.
For instance, if you absolutely can’t stand checking 14 different chat applications—each with its own different-but-really-the-same blinking notification—you can define some parameters on how people can best get in contact with you. Using fewer (or better) tools can free up your time to concentrate on actually doing your job. After all, technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not more distracting.
Form bonds and find meaning
Often the first step towards breaking out of a fragmented working environment involves connecting with people outside of your insular department. Making sense of a complex org chart can be as easy as saying hello to someone from another department. If you feel like you or your team is isolated from the rest of your organization, you can always kick-start collaboration by asking someone what they’re working on the next time you see them in the lunchroom.
Connecting with other teams means understanding how the puzzle pieces of an organization fit together: how their work influences your work and vice versa. At particularly large companies, however, those pieces don't fit together so smoothly, and the purpose or meaning of someone’s work (or a team’s) can get muddled and misunderstood. In cases like this, it’s hard to find common ground. But even if you can’t sympathize with what a colleague’s working on, you can still connect with them on a personal level, and that’s almost always going to be a productive relationship.
If you’re in a position that allows you to make org-wide changes—if you’re bestowed with the power to simplify the working lives of many—you can make changes that help enact an efficient, united workplace. By this I mean paying attention to what would make your people’s working lives simpler (ask them), and making decisions with that in mind. Here’s some parting advice:
Get everyone communicating in a way that makes sense for the workflow and habits of your organization, preferably on one app
Make sure everyone has access to job-specific and org-wide content
Listen to and make changes based upon your people’s employee experience
And finally, make important information easier to find
The modern workplace doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is currently. By making a few changes in key areas, you’re not only making your workplace more efficient, you’re unleashing the potential of your people, and that’s always going to pay off.