Back to the office, now what?

Back to the office, now what?

Let’s talk, how you are individually reintegrating back into the office.

Are you looking forward to transitioning back into the office?

Maybe you have started coming into the office and find it to be completely unproductive.

Being called into last minute meetings, chit chat water cooler talk, catch up with colleagues and not to mention the amount of time you are being interrupted.

The stats don’t look pretty…. once interrupted it takes 25 minutes to regain the same level of focus and concentration you were at before you were interrupted.

How many times are you bring interrupted during an office day?

No wonder there is resistance moving back to working from the office, it is frustrating as you have a list of things to complete, only for the day to get derailed.

There is an answer to this problem…

Before covid I found the same problem when consulting, I had one day at best in the office, the rest of the week I was out either delivering, coaching, or consulting. 

I had a long list of things I needed to get done before client meetings and coaching sessions, only to get derailed or distracted by the hum of the office environment, leaving me with hours of work to do when I eventually got home.

The reality…

The days in the office are going to be less productive for deep work; the more we put pressure on ourselves the more stress we create and that is not good for deep work, creativity and decision making.  

When you are stressed, cortisol starts circulating around your system, which has a negative influence on prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is the executive function of the brain; the one responsible for thoughts, behaviour, and emotions (decision making, creativity and focus). As it starts to inhibit the prefrontal cortex we have weaker control of our thoughts, emotions, and actions; meaning we are not in the most optimal state to be making decisions, being creative or completing deep focussed work as we are in a heightened state of survival.

It is complex and involves more than the PFC. I’m over simplifying it and you can read more about this article from Anchorage press.

Cortisol can be good for short bursts of life and death situations. However, when activated for long periods such as uncertainty, work pressure, tight deadlines etc. it will have long term negative health impacts such as depression, anxiety, tension, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

I’m not doing this justice, you can read the article from the Mayo clinic to find out more.

The Solution

  1. Have a purpose of what you would like to achieve, be realistic about the types of work you can complete in the office.
  2. Schedule your deep work for times at home when you can work without distraction.
  3. Stick to transactional work, like emails or WIPs or project check-ins
  4. Network. This is an opportunity to meet colleagues and build relationships
  5. Develop a stakeholder power map; identify who in the organisation you need to build your brand and influence with to progress projects, pieces of work and get buy in from.

If you don’t take control of what you can influence, you will be at the whim of others, and it will increase the stress and anxiety of transitioning back to the office. 


You are not going to be as productive or focused initially when your return to the office, but once you have accepted this it will free up your headspace to be more intentional and purposeful with your time and energy. In return, you will gain clarity and focus on better organisational outcomes, not to mention better health outcomes.

If you are finding yourself feeling anxious, unproductive, or lacking focus click the link here to schedule a strategy call, we can create a plan to help you integrate back into a hybrid work environment, lower stress levels and increase focus. Alternatively, if you know someone who would benefit from talking to someone about this, share the link. 

No obligation or sales chat, just practical advice.

Chunking – The Way to Communicate Effectively

Chunking – The Way to Communicate Effectively

The principle of “Chunking” is said to have first been put forward in the 1950s by George A. Miller, a Harvard psychologist. Most people today will be familiar with the theory he put forward “The Magical Number Seven”, Plus or Minus Two”. The original research was related to our short term memory, how many numbers we can remember a few minutes after being told them only once. However, his work has gone on to be applied far beyond numbers. The principle of seven plus or minus two, is now well established as a “Golden Rule” for presenting, selling or communicating information to people. We know that we should try to follow the principle on slide bullet points, written communication and oral presentations, but “Chunking” has other applications that are vital for effective business and process improvement projects.

Beyond traditional means of communication it can be, and has been, successfully applied to the creation of maps and models e.g. no more than nine activities/ processes/ objects in a single map/model. If we have more than nine then we should break them down into manageable “chunks”. The application of chunking to our maps and models aids comprehension and ensures readability.

“Chunking” is also used in a completely different way in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It is this alternative use of Chunking that is extreme value in our process improvement or BPM type projects. I am starting with the assumption that many people struggle to either get buy in for change or to have the proper level of detail required in order to be able to implement a solution. In my own experience this has certainly appeared as the conundrum on many projects. Well perhaps you might find the answers you are seeking in the NLP concept of chunking.

In NLP “Chunking Up” refers to our moving to more general or abstract information, while “Chunking Down” means moving to more specific or detailed information. Whilst this may be similar to the point discussed above regarding maps and models, it is in fact quite different. The focus on the techniques in this case is on how we reach agreement with people or how we can elicit greater levels of specivity from people.

Learning the technique and practicing thinking about it will greatly enhance your ability negotiate more easily, to find common areas in order to reach agreement, generate new ideas and to identify the details that matter.

In order for us to chunk up on a particular piece of information we could use questions such as the following;

  • For what purpose?
  • What is the intention?
  • What is this a part of?
  • What is this an example of?

As an example, let us use sport and I assume that you are an avid fan of soccer, while I, for my sins, think cricket is the best sport. We could spend hours debating and arguing the relative merits, without ever being able to reach any form of agreement, or we could use the technique of chunking to quickly and easily reach agreement. So the example questions might now be:

  • What are soccer and cricket both examples of? – Team sports?
  • What is the intention of a soccer or cricket match? – To win?
  • What is the purpose of a soccer or cricket match? – To entertain?

Thus, we might quickly establish that we both agree that team sports are good, we might agree that we find them entertaining and that we enjoy our team winning.

We can apply the same principle to methods and approaches to process improvement. All over the world people are still arguing or debating Lean vs. Six Sigma vs. BPM, vs TQM etc. What, though, might happen if we asked everyone to apply the following questions to their preferred approach or technique?

  • What is the purpose of (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM etc.)? – To improve a company’s performance
  • What is the intention of (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM etc.)? – To deliver performance improvement through the optimization of processes
  • What are (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM etc.) examples of? – Structured approaches for identifying and removing waste

You may have other answers but hopefully you will agree that when we chunk up like this we can see that the essence of all the approaches is the same. In my examples we have reached similarity on one step, but for more complex examples it may be necessary to chunk op to or more levels in order to reach the level of agreement. The principle of chunking up allows us to focus on the “forest” rather than be stuck with the “trees”.

At other times we are in need of additional information or detail so we can use the technique of chunking down, examples of questions that can assist in this would be;

  • (How, what or who) specifically?
  • What is an example of this?
  • (How or what) is a good way of doing that?
  • When would we use/do that?

Going back to our sports example let’s assume that I do not want to debate your love of soccer, instead I want to understand more about it, then I might ask the following example questions;

  • What specifically do you like about soccer? – Playing it
  • What is a good way of doing it? – Joining a team
  • What is an example of this? – I play for the company team

If we chunked up as above we could reach agreement, but we might still be missing vital facts, in this case by chunking down we can increase our understanding. Of course we could then chunk back up from here based on playing, teams and the company and it is possible we would reach an even stronger agreement. Even if agreement was not the purpose we would still now have more useful information.

With our examples around methods and tools for process improvement we might enquire;

  • What specifically is it you like about (Lean, Six Sigma, BPM etc.)? – A structured approach to change
  • What is an example of this? – the way we restructured our complaints process
  • How specifically? – we provided knowledge to enable one touch resolution

Here we can see that rather than talking about a method (abstract) we moved down into what it is used for and then drilled down to an example of how it had been used and what we specifically used it for. So now we can talk about the benefits of the approach, rather than simply selling the approach itself.

The examples presented here are kept simple to aid clarity, but chunking is also invaluable in getting us to think laterally. Lateral thinking is often taught and used as a way of getting us away from problems and into solutions. To effectively use chunking in this scenario one simply chunks up one or two levels and then chunks down again. As an example suppose you have to take a package to a particular destination and you do not wish to use your car. To identify alternatives, first chunk up, i.e. what is driving your car an example of? One possible chunk up is a mode of transportation. Now chunking down, you can easy identify many different modes of transportation which are on the same logical level as car i.e., Motorbike, train, airplane, walking, etc. And you can select the mode that meets your other needs.

The principle of chunking is widely used in negotiation and mediation to great effect, which is also the objective of many of our change efforts, and so is extremely useful to process and performance related projects.

Additionally in NLP teaching we make use of two models which help with and can facilitate better Chunking. They are the Milton Model – which uses vague or abstract language – to help us in chunking up and the Meta Model – with a number of different language constructs – which help us in obtaining specifics and thus helps in chunking down.

To summarise “Chunking” can be thought of as organizing or breaking down some experience into bigger or smaller pieces. Chunking up involves moving to a larger, more abstract level of information. Chunking down involves moving to a more specific and concrete level of information. Chunking laterally involves finding other examples at the same level of information. It can be used to reach agreement, obtain additional and accurate detail, to move people from one plane of thinking to another and many other useful ways. I consider it as an important skill in effective process analysis, design, improvement and change.

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