The Future of Time: How ‘re-working’ time can help you boost productivity, diversity and wellbeing

The Future of Time: How ‘re-working’ time can help you boost productivity, diversity and wellbeing

Author: Helen Beedham
Review by: Jane Williams

This book provokes much discussion about the way we spend our time calling into question the effect on our lives, and indicating the consequences, both tangible and intangible. The author goes straight to the point very quickly with the introduction using a classic quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll which personalises time. From this juncture, time becomes ‘him’ with the suggestion to engage time (him) in conversation! There is an outline of current frustrations with time, plus a wakeup call that this is our most precious asset yet the judgement that our working culture is broken. The introduction includes outline of the book structure showing how its contents will help individuals and organisations overcome these issues through practical and action orientated solutions.

The book is well organised, easy to follow with key points at the beginning of each chapter useful for speed reading. There is a summary of key points to conclude each of the three main parts.  There are sections illustrating the benefits of reworking time and a toolkit to start the change journey accompanied by a fundamental review of the way we live. The author believes passionately that many of society’s goals relating to wellbeing and inclusion will be achieved if only our time is better invested.

Part one describes the way we live now as a ticking time bomb, a the burning platform,  quickly making a strong case for change. Her view is that we do not recognise how we spend our time, and even more importantly stating that this harms us and the organisations in which we work. It is becoming increasingly harder to deliver our best work and flourish. The conclusion is to change our approach to time.

Our time horizons are under focus to understand our current model and more importantly how to invest this to benefit collective future interests.  The meaning of worktime is explored through the expression ‘time is money’ because here time transitions to become human capital with a heavy emphasis on sooner rather than later. Collective time management is about understanding its future impact, whilst making conscious choices about how to maximise this investment in tomorrow’s interests. To make these changes could reduce levels of individual burnout.

The recommendation is for business to invest time at work in a different way, and in the process becoming serious about inclusion as a route to improve productivity and the wellbeing of the workforce. There are references to the neuroscience of time then Daniel Levitin’s book, The organised mind’ as sources of empowerment and clarity.

External forces from economics, society, and government impact on how we invest time at work and the nature of organisations which leads to workdays which stifle our creativity and productivity. The dangers of time blindness are explored that is failing to notice, acknowledge and debate our collective habits, leading to defective use of time.  For example, Board leaders lack sufficient time for debate and may have short term time horizons due to investor or financial pressure for immediate results.

To raise debate, there is reference to administration overload characterised by a tyranny of silo processes, some of which are superfluous.  Our fixation with inputs and the pressure for longer working hours, more effort, has a huge impact on many differing groups. Those who are perceived as outside the mainstream due to gender, age or ethnicity feel the need to work harder as a route to greater achievement.

The impact of key factors on our society due to changing times, eg COVID, climate change, and ecology are explored to identify their impact on our time usage. Technology is viewed as playing a role in removing lower level roles yet putting pressure on those affected to earn a living with multiple roles.  None the less overwork may be viewed as the norm, busyness is prized over quality and results, with unproductive working practices unchallenged and lacking mitigation.  This increases the need for leaders to focus on building inclusive environments, reduce pressure yet improve results as employees have time to work, think and achieve more.  Both short- and longer-term horizons are essential to measure success. Our culture of ‘broken time’ has become a cause. The symptoms include glacially slow advances in diversity yet stress levels, anxiety and burnout are rocketing.

The second section comes forward with practical solutions, shaping for the reader the time positive characteristics of a supportive, enabling culture. These time positive traits are explored and include a laser sharp focus on outcomes. Their leaders are seen as role models of time intelligence with a zest for the important. The resulting employer brand is characterised by a long term focus on career development, a healthy work environment, with values of humanity, cohesion, learning and open mindedness. This provides the reader with a methodology to review their own leaders and managers. These are practical suggestions how to action these at work, always useful to the practitioner.

The traits of positive time focused organisations are seen as outcome assessed, deliberately designed, and actively aware. This impacts for the individual employee on how they are recruited, managed and developed.  This changes the time deal, as career committed companies place high importance on sourcing and developing new skills for the long term in an integrated approach to build new capabilities. These are identified from the business strategy which, when linked effectively to  values, such as social bonds and wellbeing, create  sustainable organisations in the interests of all stakeholders.

The benefits from this approach are seen as organisationally the adoption of a strategic mindset to managing time, simplification of the organisation to free up working time, healthier cultures with productive environments, and employees enjoy more autonomy with greater time awareness.

There are two examples of companies who are leading in this regard, firstly KBC Group whose strategy ‘Differently: the next level’ builds long term resilience, through digitisation of their customer service. This supported by a green policy for employees, focused on reskilling and redeploying wherever possible in preference to redundancy.

Secondly Zurich Insurance who describe their corporate purpose as ‘to create a brighter future together’, with a new approach which matches the nature of work to time and location completed to boost productivity. Simultaneously they are transforming core processes for efficiency.  There is tremendous flexibility with all roles advertised as parttime, full time or on a job share basis. This results in 94% of staff in Zurich happy with their work life balance.  Further there has been a £1m upskilling programme to retrain people in future skills such robotics, cybersecurity and data science.

The final part of the book focuses on aiding the reader to re-work time in their organisation. This begins with diagnostics, to understand the location of organisation on their journey to a time positive culture. Then there is guidance with clear priorities on how to incorporate this onto the Executive agenda and begin with a Board level assessment reviewing the organisation from a corporate and individual perspective.

The time strategy should centre on strategic and organisational goals, resulting in meaningful changes to day to day working practices. Execution is always challenging with change beginning at Board level and becoming employee owned through a tight management cascade. There are suggestions to pilot changes in time practices in different groups through fast cycle dynamic trials.

For any consultant engaged with clients this is a very useful workbook to identify the relevant stages and examples of the organisations with a vision for communication and role models of the changes the author recommends. Those two organisational examples are future focused developing their own new capabilities. Better time management may well help organisations whose organisations are weighed down by today’s challenges. Further this is of great use for those who lead organisations on their priorities and responsibilities to encourage their individual and corporate journeys.

There are reminders that leadership needs to model the behaviours at all levels and any people policies should reinforce the new practices and behaviours. There is an astute quote from Benjamin Franklin –  ‘Do not squander time for that is the stuff that life is made of’.  It is a ‘call to arms’ to tackle these issues with welcome, clear reminders to each of us that only we can change happen.  One note of caution whilst effective use of time is key to productive, future thinking organisations, building diverse organisations may need more depending on starting points. This is probably another book anyway!

The appendices are very useful for professional practitioners working on transformation both people and organisational. The first of which is a summary of the main messages from the book. The second presents 30 arguments, potentially business cases for adopting a new approach to time management. The third is a library of related material and the fourth is a toolkit through which to begin the journey to reworking time. There are some great phrases to encourage reflection, ‘treat working time as a strategic asset’ or ‘not solving time for time’s sake rather to achieve strategic and organisational goals’. This is coupled to some practical suggestions and techniques for managing time individually and for the team.

The book is food for thought and action for many.

Published by Practical Inspiration Publishing

Jane Williams, Director – People Innovation Ltd