A significant number of companies and workers around the world have shifted their work from a more traditional office space to a remote work culture. This cultural shift in the workplace can have major consequences for organizational leaders who don’t quickly adjust their culture to meet the needs of this new working community.
Anna Dearmon Kornick is Head of Community at Clockwise, an AI-powered time management assistance company. She recently shared with CIO Insight how certain productivity, collaboration, and leadership measures can recruit, retain, and engage a strong pool of remote employees.
How other companies are driving a remote work culture: Meeting Tech Talent Where They Are: An Interview with Clay Kellogg at Terminal
Interview with Anna Dearmon Kornick at Clockwise
CIO Insight: What do you do in your current role at Clockwise?
Kornick: As Head of Community, I joined the team in late September. I am really excited to be playing a big role in driving our content strategy and really understanding the needs of our customers, not only from a product standpoint, but just their interest in improving their own productivity, their own time management skills, and really improving their work-life balance.
“In the last year and a half, we’ve all reconnected with what work-life balance means for us and what it can mean.”
I think more than ever before, in the last year and a half, we’ve all reconnected with what work-life balance means for us and what it can mean. And so I bring my background as a professional time management coach to the role. So far, we’ve rolled out new initiatives, like our live office hours series that involves teaching, doing a deep dive presentation on a time management topic, and then opening the floor up for questions and coaching.
We’re really excited to be adding more and more ways that we can support not only Clockwise customers, but anybody who’s interested in improving their time management productivity.
CIO Insight: What does Clockwise do as an organization?
Kornick: Clockwise is a tech company; we have an AI-powered calendar assistant. So Clockwise is an AI-powered calendar assistant for Google Calendar that learns your calendar, learns your preferences, and rearranges your meetings and the meetings of your larger team in order to create more open space on your calendar for focus time.
So often, you’ll walk into your day and you’ll have a meeting, and then a little bit of time, and then a meeting, and then some open space, repeat, repeat, repeat. And with all of these little bitty fragmented pieces of open space, you never have enough time to really dive deep into a project.
That’s where the magic happens: when you’re able to get into that deep work, focused flow state And so Clockwise is able to look at your calendar, look at the meetings, look at the calendars of your team members, and for those meetings that you designate as flexible meetings, it rearranges it.
And it’s amazing because I’ll get a notification after Clockwise does its thing every evening and it’ll say, “we’ve moved two of your meetings and as a result, we’ve resolved conflicts for Fran, Katie, Tatiana, Daniel, and Steven. We’ve opened up 127 hours of focus time for your team,” just from moving two of my meetings. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.
CIO Insight: How is Clockwise helpful for deep work? Why is deep work time valuable?
Kornick: Clockwise blocks [deep work time] for you. And there are two-hour blocks of time, or minimum two-hour blocks of time.
“Studies have shown that it takes about 90 minutes to really get something substantive done in that deep work state.”
Studies have shown that it takes about 90 minutes to really get something substantive done in that deep work state. Anytime that you get distracted, it can take around 25 to 30 minutes just to regain that deep level of focus. And so when you have all that fragmented time, you’re never able to get into that deep state of focus. So by having that two-hour block, it gives you that space to establish how you’ll use the time, what you’ll do to ease into it, and really get into that deep work.
Of course, it’s helpful for me on the marketing team, as someone who does a lot of writing. You’ve really got to focus in. Dipping in and out, it’s hard to find your place and get back into it. But it’s especially important for software developers. They’re getting deep into that coding and that type of work that is so technical and above my head, but they can’t really do anything substantive in a 30-minute block, you know, they’ve got to have that “maker time” to really get in and create.
More on this topic from TechRepublic: How to Build Company Culture in Remote and Hybrid Work Models
COVID-19 and the Rise of Remote Work
CIO Insight: How have you seen workplace and workforce strategies change since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kornick: Thinking broadly, just the changes that have taken place, companies have had to think on their feet more than ever before. They’ve had to very quickly assess the situation, make decisions, and try to make decisions to the best of their ability based on what’s going to benefit the company, but what’s going to support employees as well.
I actually have a background in crisis communication. I spent about a decade in crisis comms, and for the very first time, so many people were thrust into this crisis decision-making mode. And so having to make decisions quickly has resulted in companies adopting new tools, new techniques, and really having to establish policies on the fly, if they’re establishing them at all.
So many have just sort of made decisions as they have information, which in some cases has resulted in a lot of chaos and confusion for team members. But in others, where the decisions were made very thoughtfully, perhaps with a reflection on the company’s core values, which is always important, you’ve seen their employees stick around and really benefit from this new distributed workforce landscape.
“You have to have some kind of change management framework in place because when you get blown off track, you at least have a track to go back to.”
People say, ”Well, if we can’t predict or if we can’t plan for everything, then what’s the point of planning at all?” And that just doesn’t work. You have to have some kind of change management framework in place because when you get blown off track, you at least have a track to go back to.
More on change management: Guide to the 5 Types of Change Management
CIO Insight: What is a workforce or workplace trend you’ve noticed that may surprise some people?
Kornick: What’s been a very fun challenge for companies to discover is how to make their team feel connected, despite being distributed. I’ve never met any of my team members in person, and yet, I feel for the first time in my career that I am a really solid part of the team. That’s come from very thoughtful virtual team-building activities.
“It’s finding really innovative ways to connect your team and create shared experiences and opportunities for non-work conversation; that is what keeps people [and] that is what makes people feel community belonging beyond just the work that they do.”
So if I’ve noticed one trend, it’s been this influx or abundance of new types of virtual team-building activities, from scavenger hunts to murder mystery dinners to online cooking classes. It’s finding really innovative ways to connect your team and create shared experiences and opportunities for non-work conversation; that is what keeps people [and] that is what makes people feel community belonging beyond just the work that they do.
Work-Life Management Advice for Employees
CIO Insight: How can employees at any level avoid burnout while working remotely?
Kornick: That is such a great question because it’s something that so many of us are tackling right now. A recent study that I came across, a Deloitte survey, said that 77% of those surveyed have felt burnout at some point in their current role. And that doesn’t even count the times that they’ve felt burnout in previous roles.
Burnout is certainly a problem that we all need to be aware of; no one is immune. And one of the top recommended ways to try and stave off that burnout is by establishing what your own personal boundaries are around work and home when we’re working remotely.
The line between work and home can feel very blurry. Maybe you don’t have a dedicated home office or a dedicated workspace. Maybe your workspace is your kitchen table, or it’s a spare bedroom. And when you’re not able to have that physical commute to decompress, the one that we were so used to. One of the benefits of working remotely is less time spent commuting, but you also lose that transition time.
One of my top recommendations is to create a workday startup routine and a workday shutdown routine. Something very simple. Just a few quick steps that mentally and physically prepare you to step into your workday, and performing the same steps every time is a signal to your brain that it’s time to transition from not-work to work.
It’s most important at the end of the day, because our brains tend to continue cycling through work that is unfinished, whether it’s work left on your to-do list or tabs that you’ve left open on your laptop. Our brain knows what’s unfinished, and it continues to cycle through it.
It’s very important to create some type of stopping point for your day, and you can do that with a shutdown routine. Again, the same steps every time; the steps can look like reviewing your calendar for the day ahead, identifying any meetings that you have on your calendar, reviewing your task list for the day ahead, closing your tabs, and closing your laptop. Something as simple as that really sends a signal to your brain that the workday is done. Now it’s time to be present in my downtime.
CIO Insight: What are some top productivity hacks that anyone can add to their daily working life?
Kornick: In addition to making the most of your day by having designated focus time, using a tool like Clockwise, once you’ve got that focus time on your calendar, you still have to make the most of it.
“Once you’ve got that focus time on your calendar, you still have to make the most of it.”
So many times we sit down, and that’s when the distractions come in. Suddenly, we remember that our mom’s birthday is coming up and that we need to buy a gift. Suddenly, we remember that we need to order more paper towels.
And so my favorite productivity hack is what I like to call a “shiny things list”. It’s literally just keeping a notepad and something to write with physically right near your workspace. And while you are in that deep work focus time, when something pops into your head to distract you, rather than heading into your task management system to add it as a task or heading straight to Amazon, write it down on your shiny things list and capture the shiny things.
Because when we stop what we’re doing to tackle that one thing that we think is going to be so quick, it opens us up for a rabbit hole of distractions. And so by capturing the shiny things, corralling them on your list, you’re able to get them out of your head, write them down, and get back to work.
“When we stop what we’re doing to tackle that one thing that we think is going to be so quick, it opens us up for a rabbit hole of distractions.”
And then once you finish the task at hand, or you reach the end of your focus time, go back to your shiny things list, and then decide what you should do now, what you can defer until later, what can be delegated, or what you don’t need to do at all.
More on work-life balance: 5 Work Principles for a Successful Work-Life Balance
Building an Intentional Remote Work Culture
CIO Insight: What do you think is the biggest remote workplace turnoff for an employee or a job applicant?
Kornick: As a person who was recently in the job change process, I can absolutely speak to that. Team members don’t want to be micromanaged. People want to be trusted. People want to feel like they can be trusted to make the best decisions for themselves.
And so I think that one of the biggest turnoffs for remote work is [wondering] ‘Will every move I make be monitored? Will I feel obligated to be chained to my laptop, because my workplace is monitoring my keystrokes or requiring me to track my time?”
Studies have shown that remote work makes people more productive. But remote work has also increased the amount of time that we spend working, and that’s for a lot of reasons. We talked about that blurred line between life and work; people are working more hours, so they probably are creating more and being more productive.
[But] I think that a big fear that prospective job candidates have is” Will working remotely mean that I can never leave my laptop?” When we worked in offices, we were able to get up and walk around and have a conversation at the water cooler, chat with people and sit in the break room, and that doesn’t happen now, so we feel obligated to be at our laptops.
“And so I think that a company with a culture of trust that does not institute monitoring and tracking is something that’s going to be very attractive to candidates. They want to know that their company trusts them, and isn’t there to be Big Brother.”
And so I think that a company with a culture of trust that does not institute monitoring and tracking is something that’s going to be very attractive to candidates. They want to know that their company trusts them, and isn’t there to be Big Brother.
One thing that I’ll also add here is that not everyone has an amazing brand new MacBook Pro, their own monitor, or their own setup at home. And I think one thing that can be discouraging for some team members is when they’re not set up for success in terms of their gear, or their working environment.
One awesome thing that Clockwise does is they provide a $500 work from home stipend to all of their new employees to use for whatever they want in order to improve their space. It’s really amazing to know that that support extends to giving us the ability to choose how we want to improve our space. I felt very cared for that all of it arrived before day one, and that I wasn’t trying to set up my space while participating in onboarding meetings.
CIO Insight: How can teams successfully collaborate when working in remote or hybrid workforce settings?
Kornick: A little bit earlier, we talked about how companies are having to adopt new tools, or more tools in order to facilitate collaboration in a brand new way. I think it’s important that teams get really clear on what tools they’re going to use for capture, where they’re going to capture information; that they have a calendar tool; that they have tools for collaboration, like Slack, like Asana; and that they have their client or customer management tools.
So that’s capture, calendar, collaboration, and then that client or customer management tool. Having those tools in place, and then having norms or established ways of using each of those tools, makes collaboration so much easier.
Just like establishing what those work from home or remote work policies look like from the very beginning, establishing how you’re going to use these tools helps the collaboration work so much smoother. Because everyone understands we use Slack for this type of communication, we use email for this type of communication. So you don’t have that one team member that sends the same message via Slack, email, tag, text, and Asana.
“It really always comes down to being clear on what tools are used, being clear on how they’re used, and making sure that everyone is on the same page with how you will collaborate.”
It really always comes down to being clear on what tools are used, being clear on how they’re used, and making sure that everyone is on the same page with how you will collaborate. And just staying in touch on a regular basis through one-on-ones, through team check-ins, and being flexible and open with when those happen, so the team still has time for that individual focus time required to move the team’s work forward.
More on the future of remote work: The Post-COVID Future of IT Remote Work
Leadership and Cultural Advice for CIOs
CIO Insight: How can CIOs and other executives create a remote working culture that is both supportive and productive?
Kornick: This is specific to CIOs and tech executives, but it applies to anyone in any decision-making role. The most important thing that you can do to support people with that remote working culture is to set clear expectations at the very beginning, and then to communicate them very clearly.
When there are not clear expectations around when work takes place, how work takes place, where work takes place, employees are left to interpret on their own what they think is meant by a vague instruction. That can result, unfortunately, in unfairness and inequity because people are left to try and decide what things mean.
Really sitting down and making a clear decision at the very beginning, or as soon as possible, you have a chance to be very clear about what the policies are, what the expectations are, and then how to communicate them clearly and communicate them often.
I’m certainly not suggesting reiterating the same exact policy every week in a team-wide email, but at least having something that is posted in your online team handbook that is easily referenced so your team knows the expectations and they know how they can refer back to them.
“A team that feels informed is a team that feels supported and cared for beyond their productivity output.”
And then as things change — because, you know, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned in the last year and a half is that things can change very quickly — it’s making sure that you have a method, a channel, a process for communicating those updates as they take place. A team that feels informed is a team that feels supported and cared for beyond their productivity output.
CIO Insight: Do you have anything else you’d like to add, or that you think CIO Insight readers would be interested in learning about?
Kornick: I think my parting piece of advice would be that, in as many situations and scenarios as possible, allow your team to be a part of the decision-making process. Allow your team to give input. Because that buy-in, that autonomy that they’ll feel in being a part of the decision-making process is going to make them feel more motivated to keep going.
Whether it’s establishing policies or deciding what the next fun virtual team building activity will be, ask questions and ask questions often.
Learn more about how AI can help your business: AI Software Trends for 2021
About Anna Dearmon Kornick
Time management expert, Anna Dearmon Kornick, is the Head of Community at Clockwise, an intelligent calendar assistant that frees up your time so you can work on what matters. It uses artificial intelligence to understand your work and life commitments and automatically organizes your calendar to help you focus on your priorities.
Anna also hosts It’s About Time, a podcast about time management and work/life balance.