Seeking the ‘new normal’
Most workplaces have seen some considerable disruption over the last year due to the restrictions necessary to deal with the global Covid-19 virus pandemic. Hopefully things are going to get easier over the coming months. But before we race to ‘get back to normal’ (if that’s indeed possible), let’s consider some unexpected benefits we might want to hang onto.
Work is what you do, not where you do it
Commuting has always been a drag. The time wasted driving, not to mention the cost, in order to reach an office in which documents are written, emails are read and replied to, and phones calls are made. Or instead, various ‘productivity’ applications are used. All of which could be done from home. What is needed is a ‘mind-shift’ to recognise that “I’m off to work” can mean engaging in an activity rather than physically travelling somewhere.
What’s the point of an office?
The broad acceptance that an office is where ‘work happens’ is due to the familiarly of their existence over a number of years. Once upon a time there were good reasons why work had to be so: people needed the facilities they provided, including main-frame computers, desk telephones, fax machines, printers, typing-pools (yes, really – people once didn’t type their own documents!) And memos – remember those ‘internal mail’ envelopes? But now, with laptops and mobile phones and broadband internet, it’s no longer critical to all share the same space.
People ‘like’ keeping in touch
The reality of the office is that it’s no longer a critically functional resource hub, but there are some social benefits over working remotely. It’s a place to meet and greet, share ideas and stories, help each other and generally contribute to high morale. People enjoy discussing last night’s TV or the football. Lasting bonds and relationships are formed, sometimes even being introduced to future partners. Not sure all employers would see this to be their ‘role’; the social side can of course be achieved in other ways. Anyway, flexible remote working offers the opportunity for better work-life balance.
Meanwhile, bosses like collecting their workers in one place as then it’s easier to ‘manage by walking about’. There’s a trust element: how can the staff be really hard at work if they’re not visible, aka ‘chained to the desk’. But following McGregors’s ‘Theory X (authoritarian) and Theory Y’ (participative) style of management, you either micromanage them because they’re not motivated, or trust people to take pride in their work and get the job done. So forcing people into an office isn’t the answer to productivity. Rather, pick the right people, train and support them, give them ownership of their tasks. Let them work where and when they need to. Use performance reviews as a tool (not a chore) to keep on track and set rewarding goals.
Quantity or Quality
The crazy thing about the 9-5 office culture is people vary between not having enough time to get a job done, and piloting a desk ‘looking busy’, because they’re supposed to be ‘in’. Flexible working on the other hand recognises that people have lives with things that need scheduling from time to time, around varying business demands and commitments. Allowing people the discretion to manage their work-life balance means better motivated and focussed staff who will put the extra effort in when needed. Or else, managers need to take strong decisions on appropriate resources and team composition. Working ‘smarter not harder’ certainly doesn’t mean forcing everyone into an office and making them work all hours.
Meetings expand to fill the time available
It seems like ‘work’ to spend hours in meetings showing each other an endless supply of presentation slides. Discussions often arise involving only a few participants while others wait passively. The reality is very little is accomplished that couldn’t have been better reviewed remotely, in one-to-one conversations or communicated more broadly via team or company-wide bulletins.
Keep your germs to yourself!
Due to the emphasis on ‘attendance’ (perhaps ingrained in people from their school years), there’s often a culture of ‘bravely struggling in’ when ill with a cold, thus almost guaranteeing the sharing amongst all colleagues. Above all else, the pandemic has shown the sense in keeping people separated to reduce the spread of illness.
Better for you, better for the environment
Not everyone can work from home, and certain tasks can’t be done remotely. But it’s time for a re-evaluation of what journeys are ‘necessary’ and what are the most productive work patterns, both in terms of getting the job done (without sitting in traffic jams for hours) and maintaining a flexible, motivated workforce. Not least because of the unsustainable effect on our planet’s finite resources and impact of climate change due to limitless business activities and excessive travel.
Are you ready for the ‘paradigm shift’?
@YellowsBestLtd we’d be interested to hear your thoughts and feelings about the changes brought about by Covid-19, and how you see habits changing for the future. Will you be rushing back to the office, or reaping new flexibility from remote working? Please get in touch, and let us know how we can help with your continuing business requirements. We look forward to hearing from you.