Sunday, April 09, 2006

What they mean to me... Worklife Harmony & Workload, Communication and Efficiency

Worklife Harmony & Workload
Should "Work" and "life" be seen differently? "Workload" becomes the interference to the balance of both "work" and "life"?

"Work" is a simple word, yet it fits itself very well in a wide range of contexts. According to the dictionary, it refers to "continued exertiion or activity directed to some purpose or end; especially, manual labour, hence, opportunity for labour, occupation". So, it seems like "occupation" is closest context that we usually associated with (at least, in the climate survey).

How about "life"? Similarly, the simple word has very complex interpretations, too... from the most straightforward "That state in which animals and plants exist which distinguishes them from inorganic substances and from the dead organisms" to "The course of active human existance; human affairs" and "A certain manner or way of living".

There's this popular saying, "We eat to live?" or "We live to eat?"
Perhaps, we can look at "We work to live?" or "We live to work?"

I believe it depends a lot on how we view this.

Some of us feel that "work" and "life" should not be mixed... work is work, life is life (ok, life here I believe is referring to "personal life"). Work should not interfere with our personal life, especially in days when we bring back with us the negative experiences and moods from the workplace and create stirs back at home. Life should be fully devoted to people and self. Anyway, we are paid for what's listed in the TOR, isn't it?

On the other hand, when work becomes part of life, ie. when it has successfully taken a place in our 'sources of joy'... then it's rather difficult to draw a line between life and work. Well, that's where sometimes we are labelled 'workaholics' and are always cautioned by others that it's very "unhealthy". At a second look, if we are doing something we enjoy... do we regard that as being engaged in "unhealthy" work(?)/life(?)... I just wonder...

I think it ultimately depends how we see it... If we are doing something we enjoy, the word "work" would have faded from the activity iteself. Of course, if it's something we do not like to do, the word will appear in an extra large font and bold!!! hahaha... For instance, for one who enjoys reading, having to browse through books and references could be a joy - a pleasant thing to do; whereas one who dislikes reading will deem it as "work" straightaway, even though there's obvious value in doing the reading! Take a look at our personal life, there are also lots of things that we deem as 'work'!

Space is essential to create worklife harmony... space meaning having the time to take a break... to slow down the pace... to seek quiet time to relax and reflect (ok, maybe when one relax, one should not reflect... hahaha.... hm... some contradiction here, huh???... but isn't it that one can reflect better when the mind is freed up???)

OK, I know that I should not be living in the past... but sometimes can't help to recall my experience being away from 'work'... yes, I was away from work where many who know me envied me taking a break... yes, taking a break from the routines, the day-in-day-out madness. Some of my friends reminded me to enjoy the quality life out there, because to many, it means I'm being away from 'work' and was able to do something different - ie, not teaching, not managing the dept, not doing all the fire-fighting work back in the school. However, does that mean I'm not working?

Well, I was working too! Even harder, I think, being subjected to a totally different environment. Not just to fulfil what's spelt out in the TOR and value-add further, also having to work on building the relationships with counterparts of totally different mindsets and attitudes different from the Singaporean breed. But, with an end in mind, that aligns with what I want to achieve in my personal life... work and life joined hands... Apart from stealing time to smell the flowers and hear the birds on my way to work... it's work.... :D

In terms of workload, I think it depends largely the breadth and depth we are looking at. The more diversity, the less commonality among the tasks, the more demanding it becomes. It's not easy to multi-task when things are different - we are stretched... and overstretched... Is this something within our control?

Then the depth of each task... sometimes just wonder... how much details? or perhaps how brief can it be? It's torturing to write detailed reports... however, if it does not capture enough details, is the document going to be a useful reference in times of need? Not everybody have elephant brains!

"Who" do" we communicate? "Why" do/"What for" we communicate? "What" do we communicate? "How" do we communicate?

Communication is a very very big word... when we talk, we communicate?... or do we communicate until the other party is 'present' and can figure out what's intended for their ears?

"Who" do we communicate to? Do we know who are our intended audience? One simple example was an recent email sent out by a committee chairman, informing an external party on confirming a meeting date and time. This email was cc to all the committee members for information. What happened was, some of the committee members REPLY TO ALL (including the external party) indicating their availability to the meeting. Though it's a small matter, it somehow illustrated how 'bothered' are we to pay attention who should and should not be the intended recipent of the message. This example may not be seen as 'communication', more like informing... however, informing is the first step to communicate.

Very often, we also asssume others having the background knowledge or information on matters that we talk about... "We thought you know..." is often the excuse we have... is there a need to clarify and bridge some assumptions first? and sometimes we thought we know and nodded our head and say "yes, yes, ..." thinking we know!!! We communicate with a purpose, we communicate because we wanted to achieve some level of understanding and proceed with other course of actions... our assumptions introduce an unseen wall to it... which makes us wonder why somethings things turn out otherwise...

Communication, most of the time, comes with dissemination of information, and being timely is important too... to both direct and indirect recipients of information. Not forgetting accessibility of information - it depends on the channels of communication, the systems and structures of communication, too...

We can interpret this in the simplest form - doing the work with the least amount of time. On the other hand, do not forget about quality of work, too... should it be deemed as quality work drives efficiency?

Then, what's quality work? There are different yardsticks, too. Overly high standards becomes high demands and lead to high inefficiencies.

Basically, my personal take is efficiency is linked to
  • proficiencies and competencies - one has to possess the necessary knowledge and skills - when working on a given task, it's like the application of what we possess. The smoothness of a task execution also comes with experiences of self and others (who have done similar tasks in the past)
  • the awareness and networking of information - there are lots and lots of information lying around us - in the network systems or in the people around us. Often, we were quite proud of the 'systems' we have established, and conveniently point others to the 'location' of information (eg. T drive)... hey, we forget these locations are also growing very very fast each day... should we be more bothered to be specific? It saves time of swimming in the information to identify what we exactly want.
  • clear communication of expectations
  • maintenance of systems - there is no point establishing a system for a short 'working life-span' and be left there like a white elephant due to technical issues. Systems are established to get things in order, so that processes take place in a more sytematic way, and somehow enhances efficiency and effectiveness of work. More often than not, systems are established and normally 'owned' by the 'creator' who knows it inside-out... what happens when the 'creator' leaves the organisation? Is there a systematic transfer of knowledge and ownership? If not, what's going to happen to the system? It will die a natural death, isn't it? As every system is established with a specific purpose, to meet some needs... eventually the need will be re-surfaced and those with no background of the existence of such a system may have to re-invent the wheel again? Then... there goes efficiency....

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