Samantha Julka: Discovering the recovery in the work we do

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One morning this summer, I sat at a coffee shop waiting for a colleague. Our meeting time came—and went—then an additional 10 minutes passed. I shot him a text to find out if we were still meeting. Several minutes later, I got a frantic phone call. He said he had missed our meeting on his calendar and would have to reschedule.

The odd thing is how I felt immediately after hanging up. I wasn’t irritated or mad or disappointed; I was excited. I suddenly had a full hour to sit quietly and drink my tea in peace. This opportunity doesn’t come around often, but when it does, I always embrace it as a gift.

When I shared my morning experience with my colleagues, they said, “You might need to find more recovery time in your schedule.” They explained a recent discovery that rounded out what they called the modes of engagement matrix. DORIS originally developed this matrix during a project that focused acutely on individual versus collaborative work, and we realized collaboration did not equal connection. This led to the identification of relational work. We realized a major missing component of remote and flex work was co-workers’ ability to build trust through relating with one another. I’ve already written a column on this discovery.

However, as we looked closer, we realized there is a distinction between work done with an objective (focused and collaborative work) and work done with no objective (relational work). The missing piece we identified is work done alone without an objective: what we call recovery work. To give an example, when people describe feeling burned out from overly scheduled calendars, what they are often missing is recovery time.

Recovery work is when we can mentally stretch and allow our brains to connect dots on what we’ve been thinking about. Think of it as a cool-down after a long workout and the physical benefits of stretching. Why is this important for organizational leaders? Allowing unstructured time to look out the window and mull over problems more holistically leads to creativity and innovation.

This relational and recovery work separates us from the machines. We do not need to apply equal amounts of time to all four quadrants of this matrix, but if organizations wish to avoid becoming a computerized commodity over time, it would behoove them to invest hours into relational and recovery work.

I’m not asking my friends and colleagues who happen to read this piece to ghost me at our next coffee meeting. But if you do, I’ll know how to repurpose the time with a smile on my face. And, who knows, maybe the next big idea at DORIS will come out of it.•

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Julka is founder of Indianapolis-based DORIS Research, which uses design thinking to organize workspaces.

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