Why Do We Keep Advocating 'Smart' Work While Asking Employees to Work Harder?

With such extraordinary innovation possible with tech, do we need to entirely reimagine the world of work for the new digital age?

learn more about Jared Whitaker

By Jared Whitaker • Oct 5, 2021

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When the global pandemic of 2020 struck, it changed everything. Business models established decades ago collapsed. Novel demand segments were born overnight. The transition into a hybrid and digital world of work accelerated at an unprecedented pace. As did the need for better work-life balance.

A lack of work-life balance is not a new problem for organizations; we've been struggling with it for decades. We've put yoga rooms in offices. We're on top of employee healthcare perks. We've even reimbursed team members for ergonomic chairs for their home offices. But has this been enough?

Despite all that you might have done as a leader, I'm almost certain that much of your organization still struggles with work-induced anxiety and leading a well-rounded life. Perhaps you struggle with it yourself. I know what you're probably thinking. As a senior executive or entrepreneur, you are responsible for both: the dividends of your shareholders and the wellbeing of your teams. This duality is fairly incongruous and not one easily resolved. I understand because I've been in your shoes. To make matters worse, given the recent economic turmoil, you need to get your numbers out of the red while helping your employees thrive. You've tried having Zoom meetings early in the morning to motivate your teams. You've asked for timesheets to be filled in after office hours so that work isn't interrupted. But none of this is really helping.

Why are we unable to help our colleagues with better work-life balance and better lifestyles? Why do we keep advocating "smart" work and yet keep expecting them to work harder? Where are we going wrong? With such extraordinary innovation possible with tech, do we need to entirely reimagine the world of work for the new digital age?

Our journey at Fluid began with such questions. It began by trying to zero in on the problem and with a deep dive into the current landscape of digital work and project management.

Related: Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible?

The problem: many tools, many gaps

I was always cognizant of doing all I could to help my colleagues work smart. I ensured I was on top of the best project management, productivity and communication tools available and I found no dearth of fantastic applications. We had Microsoft Projects to write our plans on. We had Excel to build and track revenue projections. We had Asana to create milestones and delegate work. And Trello to make various project boards. We used Zoom and Loom to communicate. And of course, there was PowerPoint for all those pitch decks and investor updates.

The issue? All our tools for creating, delegating, and managing projects across teams were disparate and siloed. There were files scattered across laptops, different programs being used for different purposes by different teams, and our managers were trying to stay on top of it all while finding ways to justify where all their team's time was going. It was disheartening to see that more often than not, the firm's focus was on managing items of work rather than the actual work that would drive us forward.

I understood the problem: Despite the abundance of programs from the strongest players in the industry, the solutions couldn't speak to each other, and work still hadn't become easier, faster, or better. Until this could happen, until work could become truly smarter, a better work-life balance could not be achieved. We now knew exactly what Fluid would do.

If you're an entrepreneur, it's possible that you think you've identified a problem for which you can design a solution. Or if you're a decision-maker at a large organization, it's likely that your team comes to you with managerial or productivity problems every day. In either case, from my experience, one more tool or standalone application is never the answer. At best, it's a short-term fix. You want to dig in and get to the root of the matter. You want to think holistically. Why are people struggling? Is there one problem, or several inter-related ones? Is there a systemic flaw? Before you can arrive at designing or investing in any solution, you want to first ensure you've really understood the crux of your problem.

Related: Defining Problems: The Most Important Business Skill You've Never Been Taught

The solution: one all-encompassing and transparent work ecosystem

In building Fluid, we were very clear about the value we wanted to offer. We wanted to leverage tech to create a platform onto which an entire organization could log on, and never have to leave. We'd give them everything they would need in one place. Fluid provides users space to work on projects, collaborate and communicate with colleagues, and attend meetings. It equips project managers with a top-down view. No more manual PowerPoint reports for meetings. No more running around finding the agenda. No more writing minutes. Everything's automated. Everything's seamless. Everyone can focus on their work as opposed to their administrative tasks.

One of the most important lessons I've learned from my journey is that for any entrepreneur or innovator, maintaining an obsessive focus on providing value is crucial. It keeps you from thinking in terms of expenses, revenue models, competitors, and investors, and focused on the real answers for the real problem. It encourages you to reiterate till you have something truly innovative. It prevents you from finding solutions that are divorced from the actual gap in the market. Always maintain value for clients as your north star, and you won't be lost.

Related: Four Ways To Give Your Customers Value

Building a people-first approach changes everything

Any entrepreneur's or leader's foremost responsibility is to take care of his or her people. There are many ways to do this, but the best way is to promote transparency. Involve all your team members in business-level updates. Let them know they're a part of a larger vision. Talk to them about their dreams and the emotions that go with them. Ask for feedback and truly listen. No matter how glaring the gap in the market and how innovative your solution, putting people first (and encouraging them to put clients first) will take you to far greater heights, than putting your product first will ever do. Think about the waves you could help make by truly putting your people first, working a better day, and living a better life.

Jared Whitaker

CEO of Fluid Business Solutions

Jared Whitaker is a CEO and non-executive director. He is the CEO of Fluid Business Solutions, a SaaS provider of the award-winning PPM solution Fluid.work. He also serves on the board of an educational trust of academies for pupils with learning and mental disabilities.

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