Rahaf Harfoush: Transforming Modern Work To Help Productive Creatives Thrive

The world of modern work is transforming before our very eyes. Remote working teams, new tools that provide faster communication, and a focus on team culture and environment are melding with traditional beliefs about work to create a complicated and often unhealthy place in which today’s workers must perform.

My guest on this episode, Rahaf Harfoush is a digital anthropologist who has devoted herself to studying the many intersections between emerging technology, innovation, and digital culture. Her third book, entitled “Hustle & Float: Reclaim Your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work,” reveals the data and practices behind companies and organizations that are adapting to the needs of modern workers effectively and creating teams that are more productive and healthier, all at the same time. Don’t miss this conversation.

“Productive Creatives” is a moniker that describes most people working today

Most roles within companies and organizations these days fall into the category of knowledge work, and in those roles, a growing amount of creativity is needed to truly be productive. It’s an approach to work and performance that is relatively new but is quickly becoming the norm because of the digitally integrated age we live in. Rahaf’s belief is that we need to rethink the systems and approaches to work that have governed the way we work and live so that we can adapt to the needs of the modern worker – the ones she has dubbed “Productive Creatives.” Listen to this episode to hear how she suggests we go about addressing the very real needs that touch most people in the modern workforce.

Does your team need more perks or a better behavioral environment?

Policies that leaders often put in place to attract and retain team members are many times nothing more than band-aids – things that don’t truly address the needs of the very people they hope to benefit. In this conversation, Rahaf gives the example of how the leadership at Netflix created an “unlimited paid vacation” policy in an effort to attract and retain team members. What they discovered was that very few people actually made use of the benefit.

What was the reason? It turns out most people felt that taking “too much time off” would cast them in a negative light among their peers on the team. So the desire leaders had to provide a helpful and appreciated benefit wasn’t fulfilled. Their final solution was to create mandatory time off for everyone. This removed the “peer pressure” aspect of the paid time off and gave everyone the permission to rest, decompress, and take much-deserved breaks. Listen to hear how fascinating examples like this inform us as to how companies and organizations are adapting to the modern worker’s needs.

Where do we get our ideas about work? How is modern work being impacted?

There is a strange fusion of ideologies that go into the way each of us thinks about and approaches our work. Our personal history of work, the enduring idea of the Puritan work ethic, media influence and commentary regarding work, and the way we talk about modern work heroes create a cultural narrative about the ideal or standard of what successful work looks like.

The problem is this: the modern workplace is full of “productive creatives” – people who need a different environment in which to thrive. Creative work requires unstructured time, pauses, rest, breaks, and other somewhat unconventional approaches that fuel effective work actually being done. That’s one of the reasons Rahaf has titled her book “Hustle AND Float” – it’s both hard work AND the “float” time that empowers us to do our best work.

The constant urgency inherent in virtual working teams could be dangerous

Rahaf is thrilled that remote work is becoming more and more accepted and encouraged in the modern workplace. But she is concerned that the tools adopted to facilitate remote work have many of the characteristics inherent to social media. Notifications are a great thing, but when they are constantly chiming, they can communicate an expectation that quick responses are “normal” or expected. When this happens, productive creatives begin to miss the “float” time they need to get things done.

What’s the solution? Many organizations are taking proactive steps to allow for more creative work. Some communicate clearly about expected response times. Others block out days when no meetings are allowed. Listen to hear the science behind these types of decisions and how Rahaf suggests organizations optimize workflows and policies for the health of their teams.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:24] Why leadership is about courage to execute on values
  • [1:55] The reasons behind Rahaf writing her book, “Hustle + Float
  • [3:10] Who are “Productive Creatives” and what kind of work do they do?
  • [9:15] Where do we get our ideas about work?
  • [11:40] How does the digital, virtual workplace impact this issue?
  • [17:10] Advice for those wanting to learn how to “float” more alongside their hustle

Resources & People Mentioned

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