Doesn’t Take Harvard to Tell Us We’re Working More, But They Can Help

In a conversation I had with Putman Media’s Erin Hallstrom a couple weeks ago, she talked about the Influential Women in Manufacturing program she runs, a business podcast she puts together and hosts (Food for Thought), a personal podcast, a book she’s writing, plus all her daily SEO and digital duties, etc.
How can you do all these things, I asked?
“I’m training to be a lockdown Olympian, doing all these things,” she said, both proudly and with a bit of incredulousness. When her sister got married in July, she was maid of honor, and for the two days she was taking off, her boss made her promise not to check in. “I wrote a blogpost about how anxious I was for being off for two days,” she said.
Erin, you’re not alone. A new Harvard Business School study says that we are working longer hours with more emails and meetings than ever before. Not surprised, I take it. Okay, let’s delve in a little deeper.
That’s a lot of extra minutes. “An analysis of the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people in 16 global cities found that the average workday increased by 8.2%—or 48.5 minutes—during the pandemic’s early weeks. Employees also participated in more meetings, though for less time than they did before COVID-19 sent many workers home.”
Remember when Zoom used to just be a kids TV show. “There is a general sense that we never stop being in front of Zoom or interacting,” says Raffaella Sadun, professor of business administration in the HBS Strategy Unit. (She spent the spring advising the Italian government about how to reopen its economy post-lockdown.) And that has an effect on us, she added.
9-5 workday? Where? Shifting to remote work took away whatever was left of the “elusive 9-to-5 business day and replaced it with videoconferencing and ‘asynchronous work,’” Danielle Kost, senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, writes. She reports that “at least 16% of Americans plan to keep working from home part of the time after COVID-19 abates.” That sounds low to me, from the conversations and non-scientific surveys I’ve seen and done.
No office, no… ? “The role of an office is to congregate and help people work together,” Sadun said. “For us, the question was, ‘What happens when you cannot have that physical space anymore?’ How do people adjust their work patterns?” Three results:
  • Employees sent 5.2% more emails a day.
  • Emails had 2.9% more recipients.
  • About 8.3% more emails were sent after business hours. (That’s a big number when you consider all the emails we send.)
We’re becoming a meet market. They also analyzed meeting invitations—the quantity, duration and number of attendees—and observed that:
  • People attended 13% more meetings.
  • Each meeting was 12 minutes—or 20%—shorter.
  • The number of people invited to each meeting rose by two, or 14%.
Boundaries are needed. The longer workdays result from there being less boundaries. Most of us don’t really have to be anywhere anymore. “Unless you really are able to create distinct boundaries between your life and your work, it’s almost inevitable that we see these blurring lines,” Sadun says.
Who are better off? “This is one of those things where it’s hard to make one statement for everybody,” Sadun says. “If you have a large house, life is good. If you have to combine your bedroom with your office, it’s not as good.”
Too much screen time? “The issue with Zoom is that you’re always on there. You have to show a concentrated face the whole time,” Sadun says. “It’s very unnatural to be constantly looking attentive for hours.” I’ve conducted interviews on Zoom and it is strange that when you aren’t looking at the screen, it looks like you’re not paying attention—as opposed to in-person where it’s awkward to stare at someone for too long.
Three pieces of advice to leaders of remote workforces:
  • “Empathize with workers’ unique circumstances. Managers need to know what their employees are juggling to provide the right professional support.”
  • Focus on output and quality, not hours.
  • “Expect wide differences in productivity across employees, for now.” Some may find working from home energizing while others crave that in-person interaction. (I’m in the latter and I cringe at friends who tell me how much they are enjoying the lack of a commute, their pets around all the time, etc..)

Turning Yesterday’s Content Into Today’s Gold

One of my favorite SIPA member features continues to be MedLearn Media’s Compliance Question of the Week. There are weekly questions in six categories: Cardiology, Laboratory, Pharmacy, Radiology, Respiratory and General. So this does take some upkeep. There’s also a search function—”Looking for an answer?”—a Compliance Question Archive, and a simple SIGN UP button.

This week’s question for Radiology is: “For reporting MRA procedures, is it required to have 3-D post-processing stated in the report?” Hit READ THE ANSWER, and you get a succinct solution, with this sales addendum: “This question was answered in our Breast & Bone Density Procedure Coding Guide. For more hot topics relating to radiology services, please visit our store or call us at 1.800.252.1578, ext. 2.”

This is need-to-know content AND it builds up a comprehensive Compliance Question Archive. Their archives go back much longer than the patience I have to keep hitting “Older Posts.”

Archives can provide a useful resource for you and your audience. Here are other ideas that make use of archives.

Dig for historic value. Your institutional memory doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. There’s a good chance you have old publications with significant value, just sitting on shelves—print or digital—somewhere in a makeshift morgue. (I know I do. Who remembers Hotline?) It might be worth doing a little digitization work every once in a while to ensure that this info isn’t getting lost. Republish old ads and photos occasionally. We love nostalgia. “On this date: 1/15/1892,” Axios wrote, “James Naismith published the original rules of ‘Basket Ball’ in Triangle Magazine, a monthly journal published by Springfield College, where Naismith was a graduate student and instructor.” And if you’ve been doing this a while, 5 Years Ago on This Day or May 9 in SIPA History can make for a fun look back. (Hmmm, I should do that more.)

Use for gamification. We all like the occasional quiz—look at the ratings-bonanza Jeopardy Greatest of All Time that just took place—and your archives can be a great source of information for the questions for those quizzes. Education Week and Kiplinger both do a great job with their quizzes, and again the information piles up the more you keep doing them.

Look for evergreen content ideas. Spring Cleaning (of Your Email). Summer Reading Lists. Things to Be Thankful for at Thanksgiving.  At the start of our conferences, I’ll update and publish Making the Most of Attending Live Events and always hear from a grateful publisher who is sending someone new. Last year, a member told me about a post they had first used in 2013 offering reminders or ideas to try. “While it’s still highly relevant, it’s not exactly earth-shaking advice,” she wrote me. Yet the article received 144 likes and 45 comments from people sharing some of the advice. Five of those comments came in well after the post, so it was still resonating.

Use content from your online discussion or forum group—or your webinar Q&As. This has become one of The Washington Post’s biggest repurposing strategies. They will have one of their travel or restaurant or relationships experts do an online chat and then you’ll see some of that dialogue in the print newspaper. It actually makes for good, easy-to-read copy.

Take a quarterly look at what has resonated most. You have the analytics. Be transparent—let your audience know what your most popular posts were. We’ve been doing this for the last couple years and have received good feedback. Everyone is in a time crunch these days and is likely to miss an article here or there. It also brings attention to the moments where the content really sparked interest and revenue-generating ideas. “People forget about 90% of what they read after 12 weeks,” said Luis Hernandez, editor in chief for InvestorPlace Media. “Check your analytics and repeat your most popular posts every quarter.”

Make access to your archives a valued commodity. In 2012 Harvard Business Publishing made the decision to open archive access to subscribers on and haven’t looked back. “We heard people recognized [back] issues by covers, so we started posting images of covers [to help them find key content],” said Emily Neville-O’Neill, director of product at HBR. “We saw a 20% increase in subscription revenue right away.”