What we've learnt
One thing this pandemic has taught us all is that we don’t necessarily need to be in an office building to do good work. In fact, it has made us shift our work home balance in four weeks, instead of it probably taking five to ten years to get here – if indeed we ever would have done.
Now people are enjoying the freedoms that home working can bring – not setting alarm clocks, no commuting, seeing more of partners and family, working a pattern that suits your lifestyle – the list is long. For some they also feel they can focus more without the distractions an open office environment can bring. For many of us the benefits have outweighed the downsides – isolation, losing touch with colleagues, lack of spontaneous ‘coffee machine’ conversations, etc.
Too big a leap?
However, what we are noticing is that now people have found ‘freedom’ we feel we have to let them decide what is right for them going forward. In some cases we have leapt from staff not feeling trusted to work from home and the very words being a euphemism for taking it easy, to a world where employers are cautious about asking them to go back to the office.
Organisations are using surveys and Zoom calls to ask their employees ‘do you want to come back to work in the office?’ Not surprisingly, when given a free choice with no pressure, most are opting to stay working from home.
The danger to leadership
I see that we are in danger of moving from leaders having most of the power, to employees ruling the roost. Can you imagine what we would have said and done four months ago if an employee refused to come into the office and wanted to work from home permanently? Don’t get me wrong, anyone that knows me will know I am a big believer in workplace democracy. But in any democracy there have to be rules and boundaries, otherwise it is anarchy.
So what are the next steps?
What organisations should be doing now is looking at this new normal as an opportunity to reset the rules, not hand over total power to the staff – that is doomed to end in leaders getting frustrated and resorting to autocracy to get people back to the office. Just as it wasn’t right to force everyone to come into work everyday, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone to work from home everyday.
There needs to be a ‘diagonal slice’ approach to work design:
Which work needs to be done together, face to face, and which can be done remotely or via Zoom/Teams?
How will we continue to manage performance effectively when we can’t physically see and hear what people are doing day to day?
How will we continue to stay connected and ensure everyone maintains their well being?
And how will we work safely to overcome any genuine anxiety people may have?
From this a balanced approach can be developed, combining cost, productivity, environmental issues, individual preferences and organisational effectiveness.
Representatives from all levels and functions should be involved, and the outcome clearly communicated – and enforced where necessary.
Getting the balance right
We can make massive improvements in morale and productivity, and huge savings in office costs if we get it right. However, what people want and what organisations need are often different things and helping people to see this can prevent a bigger problem down the line.
The current route that some organisations are taking may resort in employees refusing to come in for team meetings or training, even more distrust from leaders as they get suspicious about what their employees are actually doing at home, and resentment from colleagues who are working in the office, and still think working from home is an easier option. We have had blended learning for some time – what we need now is genuinely blended working.
Contact us to find out more
If you are interested in getting this difficult balance right, we would love to hear from you and share how we are helping many organisations to be at their best in this new world.
Contact David.firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07710003029