“Well, don’t you look comfortable today,” said the woman, with a combination of jealously and disapproval.
Slowly lifting my just-brewed cup of coffee, I casually replied, “No reason not to be,” before sauntering out of the shared kitchen and back to my office.
Though her comment was backhanded, it was accurate. Since launching healthsystemCIO.com almost three years ago, my work wardrobe has steadily descended into the comfortable. When I started, I wore dress pants, a button down and dress shoes every day, thinking that the clothes made both the man and his work ethic. Slowly, those pants became jeans, the button down a T-shirt. Finally, in the current stage, it’s track pants, a T-shirt and sneakers, with a sweatshirt recently added to match the season.
As my wife has commented, I look like I’m going to the gym, and truth be told, I usually do (after work, that is).
And what of my fears that a relaxation of wardrobe would result in a weakening of work ethic? Nonsense, nothing of the kind has occurred. If anything, I work more efficiently because I spend less time thinking about my clothes, and I’m vastly more comfortable in those I choose to wear. John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said as much in a post he wrote on simplifying his life.
My commute has also improved dramatically, as I no longer have to engage in the nightmare that is traveling into and out of New York City. Now, I jump in the car and am at my office in 10 minutes. As a result, I have about three more hours to devote to either my work or personal life, rather than the buses of New Jersey and the subways of Manhattan. As suspected, I have not had one yearning to visit the inside of the Lincoln Tunnel again.
I also get to make my own hours, tailoring my schedule to match the time and duration I work best. For me, this means getting started super early in the morning, when nature grants me a nice burst of energy. By early afternoon, the mental bolt has largely been shot, and tackling any large projects is an exercise in futility. When things get backed up, I add an extra workday on the weekend rather than adding hours to an existing one, as I know this is the only solution for me.
As a final added benefit, I’m not forced to attend meetings at which my presence is not really necessary. I’ve spoken to many folks who can identify with this particular form of organizational or corporate torture — obliged to show up regardless of the fact they have nothing to absorb nor offer, stressing all the while about the growing pile of emails in their inboxes.
In short, I have reduced the many ways my personal battery is drained by the many irrelevant and senseless claims that are made upon it, claims that leave us exhausted at the very moment we are expected to create, inspire or innovate. Those of you who know what it feels like to expend a fully day’s energy just to get out of the house and arrive at the office understand.
But, as I have explained, it doesn’t need to be this way. Offering latitude and flexibility in some of the above areas will allow your folks to save some energy for tackling their work, rather than positioning themselves to begin it. Leadership, you see, is not the art of getting folks to do exactly what you say, to fit into the box you’ve designed, but rather to help them perform at the highest level possible.
A friend of mine who works for a major corporation in New York City was recently the beneficiary of a policy that allows employees — with the consent of their manager, and when appropriate — to work from home on Mondays and Fridays. I cannot tell you the Godsend this is to someone with a difficult commute. I cannot tell you how beneficial it is to the company, as all his newly recovered energies are tinged with gratitude and, thus, happily directed back into the organization.
As we are all granted a finite amount of productivity in a day, it is your job to ensure that the professional portion of it is not frittered away by needless commutes or frivolous meetings. While it might seem insulting, telling someone sitting at conference table they actually don’t need to be there will likely be the best news they hear all day. Like Halamka, I like the concept of simplification, as it leaves the new-found time to be applied to the greatest advantage. Start considering — and where possible, conserving — both your battery life and those of your employees. Figure out how and where you can make them more comfortable and, when asked if they’re happy, you’ll hear, “No reason not to be.”