From Early Birds to Night Owls: The (Human) Nature of Work

June 2, 2022 | New Workplace Leadership | 5min read

A friend of mine told me a funny story the other day. In her twenties, she was an aspiring writer and worked nights in a bar to pay the bills. One day, she reported for her shift, and she found the entire staff, from owners to dishwashers, sitting at a long table with notebooks in hand. As every head in the room turned slowly towards the door, she realized with horror she had forgotten the monthly staff meeting. For the third time.

The irony? She had been next door at a café writing in her journal to kill time, because she was always early (even though she never remembered to punch her timecard).

Suffice it to say, she was called down to the manager's office. But what happened next might surprise you.

The manager closed the door, looked at her, and quietly said,

"I've finally figured you out. You don't do timecards, and you don't do meetings."

My friend was mortified and apologized profusely. The manager then said,

"But you're the best employee we have, and you have great creative ideas. I think you have management potential. I'd like you to consider becoming our bar manager."

My friend was stunned — and accepted. The bar kept a great employee, and my friend earned both a lucrative new career and a valuable lesson that shaped how she led her own team. (By the way, as a manager, she didn't have to punch a timecard. And she never missed a meeting again because she was in charge of them. More problems solved.)

Now, this was management genius. For leaders, getting to know how each person on our team operates best — especially with a remote or hybrid workforce — is key to enabling great work.

Just like our preferred WFH fashion style, each of us has a different working style and a few "non-negotiables" (e.g., nothing before 9am) — that helps to guide and shape the way we approach work. Personally, I'm an early riser. My productivity peaks early in the day and I do much of my "thinking work" before 10am. I'll gladly speak with you at 6 am, but by 6 pm, I'm waning, and by 9 pm, I’m thinking about bed. I am more engaged when I walk and talk than when I am at seated at my computer on Zoom. And I'm a prolific Teams-er. This is my norm, but I recognize it doesn't work for everyone. Nor should it.

At Skillsoft, we've given a lot of thought to how best to enable our teams to function at their peak while taking individual working styles and needs into consideration. Our partners at SYPartners have built a simple but effective tool for surfacing the various working styles of a team, and they graciously shared it with me. It allows us to self-select across several dimensions, and then gives us an understanding of individual, group, and departmental preferences. Armed with the data, we can make better decisions about when to hold meetings, how to improve communications, and even how to get to know each other better. If you'd like to give it a try, click here for the link to the file, "How We Roll."

Of course, if you're a smaller team, or prefer a more informal "survey," it's easy to find examples online that can help you get started. For instance, here's one on idealist that takes just a few minutes. And, if you'd like to delve deeper into how to effectively lead or contribute to a team with different working styles and personalities, Skillsoft offers a rich library of courses
designed to help you do just that.

Incidentally, while my working style has remained fairly consistent, my WFH fashion style has evolved since the start of the pandemic. I've gone from truly "business casual" to "comfy chic" (which is a nice way of saying, a slight step up from pajamas)!

As for my friend, the bar manager with the great ideas? Today, she's a freelance marketing creative. (Of course, she is!) And so, while she does show up for (most) Zoom meetings, she still doesn't have to "do timecards."