Because it has been a real learning process. I was only 21 when I started my first company, and in my youth and enthusiasm, I truly put my health at risk. I wouldn’t listen to my own body so my doctor had to tell me out and loud: if I kept on going like this, I wouldn’t live passed 50. It was a terrible blow, but he was right. So I packed my stuff and my family and I moved to Costa Rica where I learned that there was something else outside of work again. Today, I try to put that into practice every day and try to make sure that my employees don’t make the same mistakes as I did.
At AVirtual all my PAs are part-time employees, they work when they want and get paid for what they do. And I have to say that productivity is not an issue. So far everybody’s happy, my employees do not need to stay in an office for hours and get bored and my clients save money as they only pay for the time their PAs are actually working.
During our last monthly meeting, one of my PAs approached me and said ‘do you know how lucky your clients are? Every time I get up to get a coffee, I press pause on my timer and they don’t get charged for it. This would be unthinkable in my old job!’. When I asked her if this was a problem for her, she replied that not at all, that she was actually very impressed with herself with what she was capable to achieve during her recorded hours.
I recently read an article in Forbes magazine written by Cheryl Conner where she highlighted that ‘Employees are spending longer periods than ever before “wasting time”’. She backed up this affirmation with statistics saying that 24 per cent of people in a Career Builder survey admitted to spend at least an hour of their working day doing something else non-related to work, spending most of that time on social media.
As much as these numbers scare us employers, I think they are diverting us from the problem. To tackle this, our first reflex would be to monitor our employees’ productivity even more. But I do not think this a real solution, or even a solution at all. The only thing you would achieve would be creating a pressurised atmosphere in your office because the truth is employees simply can’t focus during 8 hours in a row. I believe we should learn to do the opposite – we need to learn to ‘let go’.
Last year, Linus Feldt CEO of the Swedish company Filimundus decided to implement the 6-hour working day, pushing his employees to have minimum meetings, banning social media and limiting distractions. In an interview, Feldt said: "To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable."
So maybe the solution lies in part-time working or flexible working days after all. It is true that it only works for my PAs because they work from home and flexibly. Their time is recorded by they are completely free and they have my complete trust. But it also doesn’t mean that other companies can’t do the same. Of course, no employee would accept working less hours and receive a smaller wage. However, employers might consider the option of paying the same salaries for more productivity. With shorter office hours, people can go home earlier, enjoy life and their families, they relax and more importantly recharge their batteries.
Today everybody agrees on the fact that working too much can be very damaging for the health. A recent study published in Science Alert reported that individuals working 55 hours or more per week had a 33 per cent greater risk of stroke and a 13 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. So companies take actions and promote wellness programs and improve the menu of their canteens. But this is treating only one side of the problem: yes, your health affects the quality of your work but the reverse can also be true. As I learned in my own time, the quality of your work can also gravely affect your health.
I have employed dozens of people over the years and if there is one thing I’ve learned is that most of them want to feel proud of their work. They want to finish the day and feel that they’ve achieved something, not sit around all day and feel bored. Trusting them and giving them more freedom will push them to prove themselves to you and thrive. Of course, some of them will disappoint you, but you can’t let a minority of dishonest employees influence the way you want your business to be. To me, the solution is obvious: the happier your employees are, the more productive they will be.