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How Finding Your Work Style Can Increase Productivity

Minah Kim

Two female workers jot down notes on a white board together with post-Its spread out across the board, and in the background a group gathers around a laptop talking.

“What’s your work style,” is a common enough interview question. But continuing that conversation after you start a job is a great way to ensure that you’re working in a space where everyone feels empowered to do their best work. 

Discussing work style means communicating with colleagues and agreeing on standard processes that account for your preferences as well as those of your teammates. A clear understanding of work styles can help to reduce misunderstandings, increase efficiencies, and contribute to a communicative team culture. 

What is work style?

Work style encompasses our preferences for communication, receiving and giving feedback, problem solving, and time management. Take our work style quiz and use the prompts below to uncover your personal work style. 

Working hours and scheduling:

  • When am I the most productive? 
  • When do I need to set aside time for uninterrupted work?
  • When is the best time for meetings? 
  • When are deadlines (typically) and when do I most need input from my team in order to meet these deadlines? 
  • What hours am I actively checking email, Slack, etc.?

Communication:

  • What is the best way for someone to reach me for an urgent question? For a non-urgent question (e.g., email, phone call, Slack)?
  • How would I like timelines to be communicated? 
  • Who can I ask to help make decisions about priorities (i.e., which task is more important or needs to be completed first) for different types of tasks?

Problem solving:

  • How do I like to problem solve? Collaboratively, independently, or a mix of the two?
  • At what point do I ask a manager or team member for help with a problem?

Feedback:

Common areas of feedback include detailed tasks (e.g., copy, formatting, data analysis), planning (e.g., strategy, storyboard), and professional development (e.g., goals, competencies). Consider the different times you need feedback at work as you think through these questions. For instance, on a press release you are writing, you may prefer to receive copy and formatting feedback directly on the document; however, on a project plan, you may prefer to present your plan in a meeting, so you have the opportunity to discuss questions in more depth. 

  • What is the most effective way for me to receive and provide feedback (e.g., face-to-face, detailed comments within the deliverables, email with bullet points, template or rubric document)?
  • What frequency of feedback would be the most effective for my success (e.g., monthly, daily, real-time)?

Example scenario

You set up check-in meetings twice a week to provide updates to your manager, but your manager sends you instant messages multiple times a day to ask for updates, which disrupts your productivity. 

In a discussion about work style, you express to your manager that instant messages can impede your productivity, and your preferred method of providing updates is email or in scheduled meetings. Your manager explains that they use instant messaging to get more frequent updates, especially when they need to prepare for board presentations that are scheduled with only one day’s notice. 

Together, you create a solution—you will send daily updates via email by 2 p.m., and your manager will let you know about last-minute meetings as soon as possible. You will schedule 30-minute meetings to help your manager prepare for board presentations. 

Introducing work style discussions as a best practice

When joining a new team or working with a new supervisor, use a discussion focused on work style as a way to introduce yourself and ensure that you can be an effective team member. If this type of discussion is new for the team, suggest it as a way to get to know each other and learn about how to best collaborate and work toward your organization’s mission. 

If you’ve been with your team for some time, introducing a work style conversation into team check-in meetings can still be productive and organic. As many of us are working remotely, this could be a great opportunity to suggest a work style discussion. Present the discussion as a structured way to check in as a team and provide honest feedback in the spirit of making the team even more productive and collaborative. 

Additional tips: 

  • Offer to document the agreed processes and send out a summary after the meeting.
  • Set the expectation that you’re still in the process of determining what works best for you and would like to check in regularly about how effectively you’re working with the team. 
  • Keep in mind it’s normal for your working style to evolve as you work with different team members and in different roles.
  • In the next check in, review the agreed processes agreed upon from the previous meeting and discuss what has been working well and if any adaptations are needed.

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Share your experiences or challenges with work style discussions on Facebook or send us an email at careers@idealist.org.

Minah Kim

Minah Kim is a writer based in Brooklyn. She is a labor and community organizer with experience in the healthcare and professional services sectors. 

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