Advance Blog

September 24, 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the future of work. As the pandemic resets major work trends, I thought this would be a perfect time to also address the big elephant in the working room: the hard, long working hours that many of us give to work for the sake of a promotion, pay rise, unrealistic working demands, inflexible working cultures, over demanding managers, or simply because we got so used to working hard that we really don’t know how to turn it off and enjoy time with friends, family, hobbies, or however else we may choose to spend our time and energy.

This pandemic has caught all of us by surprise. And yet, despite facing difficult times, it has also allowed us to understand that there is a different way in which we can work and go about our lives, whilst remaining efficient and focused on delivering business results. Rather than panic, I’ve watched how many are actively working on what they can control, figuring out ways to work smarter and more efficiently for the sake of their work, their family, and their sanity. We may have been forced into a world we didn’t choose to be a part of, and yet, I believe that there are great learnings and opportunities to be exploited by going through these new world challenges.

In today’s ever-changing and often-chaotic business environment, organizations invested in succeeding must understand how to make change work when everything is changing. Allowing more employees to work from home, arranging more virtual meetings or holding online conferences alone won’t cut it. We are not just talking about cutting down on expensive and more time-consuming activities here. Your company’s survival in the long term is going to depend now more than ever on your ability to come up with smarter, leaner and more agile ways of working in order to be efficient, productive and stronger than ever before in the face of adversity.

Recent studies on how to “recession-proof” our businesses in order to avoid getting impacted from an economic downturn keep telling the same story, that agility and the capacity to adjust fast will be determining factors behind survival, as well as minimizing costs and being efficient. Learning to work smarter, not hard, will help companies and individuals accomplish all of this. Because what got us here won’t get us to where we need to go next. Change is unavoidable and it’s time we all embrace it.

This is often easier said than done though – without a clear plan and strategy for your workday in place, most people end up overcommitted, overwhelmed and overworked. Adapting to a more agile, effective and efficient way or working will require everyone’s participation and contribution. There are many issues that need resolving, such as looking at root causes, people not being team players, dominance, lack of communication, top-down management decisions, silo mentality, and the list goes on.

How to make working smarter the new way of working at an organizational level

To build the workforce you’ll need post-pandemic, you must focus less on roles — which group unrelated skills — and instead sharpen the skills needed to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel that advantage. Encourage employees to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their career development, rather than preparing them for a specific next role. Offer greater career development support to employees in critical roles who lack critical skills, such as leadership, creativity, interpersonal skills, problem-solving and critical thinking or data analysis skills.

This shift will help you create a more responsive, resilient organization, by designing roles and structures around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility and formalize how processes can flex. As an added bonus, provide employees with varied, adaptive and flexible roles so they acquire cross-functional knowledge and training.

The partnership between Finance and HR as key strategic partners:

In order to navigate the way of doing business post-pandemic, the focus must not continue to be placed in finances alone to secure the company’s moves in the short-, mid- and long-term. In considering which moves will be of the greatest benefit to the long-term growth of companies, a clear emphasis needs to be placed in labour.

Quick and easy layoffs and reducing headcount at a time of crisis could have catastrophic consequences for the long-term survival of any business. Better, smarter options would include recruitment freezes, granted leave of absence, and pay cuts, options which must all be assessed with HR.

HR must therefore become a strategic partner moving forward. This is a unique opportunity for HR to be at the forefront of shaping the business to navigate through this challenging time.

A Finance / HR partnership at a strategic level can help companies take decisive valuable steps to ensure that they are not only responding well in the short term, but also positioning their company for success throughout the phases of economic recovery. Just as important as managing the cash flow is the health and wellbeing of employees. Take care of them and in return they will bring their best game. Moving forward, your people will judge organizations by the way in which they treat employees and their transparency, so become an employer of choice.


In today’s business environment, leaders are not the only ones who drive change. Now, everyone understands change and is a change agent. Also, experienced players are not the most important and innovative.

Nowadays, it is crucial to create leaders at all levels. A Deloitte recent global survey found that leadership is the #1 issue organisations face today, yet only 15% of companies are actively developing their talent. Without their own pool of potential leaders to develop and nurture, organizations are forced to recruit externally. This comes at a higher price, and often with mixed results.

Gone are the days when traditional leaders sat in their office and delivered orders that their workers carried out. This kind of top-down, information-sharing, decision-making and development-modelling is becoming increasingly ineffective. The very idea of what it is to be a leader is changing.

We must now consider ways in which to instil leadership at all levels, so that employees are informed, enabled and empowered to move company goals. As more organisations dismantle their traditional hierarchies, and as more traditional leaders retire, the need to establish leaders at all levels grows significantly.

Companies need to draw focus to discovering talent, and put potential leaders in positions that stretch them beyond their current skillsets. To attract and retain the top talent of the future, leadership at all levels must become a strategic imperative. How organisations do it is something they need to take their own lead on.

Your employees are under immense pressure to push themselves as far as they can, frequently facing their own breaking points, for the promise of a promotion or salary increase. But these perks no longer come as steadily, even in larger corporations.

So, not only are many work cultures more intense than they’ve ever been, employees aren’t even being compensated for the work they are doing. As you can imagine, that’s not good for your employees or your business. Studies show that overworked employees are actually less efficient, less productive and overall unhappier than their counterparts.

A study by Stanford University also found that when employees work more than 40 to 50 hours in a given week, they are two-thirds less productive. Two-thirds! This is not only detrimental to their quality of work, but it’s also dangerous to their mental health.

Most employees understand that there are certain days and weeks throughout the year when they will be required to work longer hours—like during month-end closings or leading up to a company event or organized trip. Yet, if they work like this every day, you could potentially be driving your employees to burnout.

To combat this, companies must promote physical health and improve the emotional wellbeing of employees. One of the biggest predictors of employees’ disengagement at work is doing very long hours, and being overwhelmed with too many things to do. With such burden on employees, it’s going to be difficult for you to retain your top talent.

In my personal opinion, it all starts with great leadership, by empowering and trusting employees with the right culture, tools, targets and processes. And this must continue with the employees, who need to demonstrate both the commitment and responsibility to earn the trust of leadership and their own peers. In other words, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make smart work work.

Employees look to their leaders to set an example of work ethic and also to set the culture of the company. If you lead from a distance—otherwise known as the “invisible CEO”—and employees see themselves and their colleagues doing all of the hard work, that will be the perception of your company, whether it’s true or not.

In a recent study, 52 percent of employees reported that they believed their leaders cared about the productivity of the company over them. If you expect your employees to remain committed to your business, you need to prove that you don’t value efficiency over their wellbeing.

Your company may be your life, but to your employees, it’s a career. You may have built a robust enough foundation within your company where you can delegate more tasks and step back from the day-to-day routine a bit more, but make sure you pay attention to both the expectations and work you’re putting on your team. They shouldn’t be grinding away more than you are.

Research from the Behance team found that placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results leads to a culture of inefficiency – and anxiety. We must create an intention to change the way we view working hours, and proactively make a shift from work based on number of hours to results achieved within a timeframe.

This became a very clear concept for me personally years ago when I became both a new mum and a new GM in a new city and a new hotel. Very quickly I realised that, if I wanted to succeed and do well, I’d need to focus on creating results based on working smartly, so I could dedicate precious time with my baby.

I became familiar with Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion – and realised soon after that with clarity and intentional action we can in fact become high performing, productive individuals in much less time and effort.

Employers need to appreciate the importance – and return on investment – of employees who work smart. The idea that the longer something takes to complete, the better quality it must be, is no longer justifiable.

Measure results, not time. A 12hr working day haunted by stress, interruptions, sleep deprivation, or overwhelm is not worth the 720 minutes it’s allotted. It’s a low-quality working day. You’d be foolish to expect that you can turn such dirty input into clear accomplishments. Instead, you need to actively work on increasing the purity and quality of your hours.

You can do that by asking yourself these simple questions to start helping you clarify important tasks and create more quality time:

  1. Do I need to be involved in this?
  2. Is this bringing me closer to my goal?
  3. Could this wait?
  4. Can I say no to this?
  5. Can someone else do it?
  6. Could this be replaced by something else that would help me generate quicker and better results?

One way to assist you with measuring results instead of time is by generating done lists. This is simply an ongoing log of everything you completed in a day. By keeping this list you’ll feel more motivated and focused since you can actually see what you accomplished. When you review your day, it also gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.

You are always choosing. Choose well. Your time is valuable – respect it with a solid plan, getting the rest you need to stay focused, and tuning into your passions and your customers. Once you start working smarter, the results will speak for themselves.


To your success,


Isabel Valle PCC
Isabel is an experienced Peak Performance Strategist with over 20 years of international work experience holding senior positions within the hospitality industry in countries around the world, as well as Executive and Leadership coaching, mentoring and training. She specializes in high performance strategy, leadership development and building organizational culture to help leaders and their teams learn, grow and succeed. Isabel is passionate about helping empower business leaders with the mindset, performance, skills and strategies that they need to get ahead. More available on

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