Homeworking: Think, rethink, revitalise.
By Dr. Robert Coles
I once read an article, ‘Virtual working: What a breeze’. Combine home with work, make your own schedule – it’s all about the individual choice. Are you feeling it?
Here in the real world of lockdown, we’re attempting to reconnect, deepen collaboration, reach the people that give us meaning, and the joy of ‘coffee and chat’! Virtual? Great as a choice, we’re not so keen on it as the primary way of being.
We are social animals. We speak, listen, observe and touch as we work. We hand things over, receive things and share things together. We lean over shoulders, huddle around desks, we touch, observe, listen, speak. This is life. We are formed, identified by these routines.
Right now everything is shattered. Where do I stand? Where do I sit? How does this stuff work? And, when it’s all over, where will I fit? Will I fit? Our people are stressed to the max, and many are fearful of where this all leads. What is the ‘new normal’ anyway? How do we navigate to wherever this leads?
In our business within the field of executive education, we are talking to many organisations, across civil administration, public sector, professions and commerce. There are variations in their blend of experiences, but there are similarities.
Many organisations see an in-group developing, those for whom this virtual phase is a dynamic opportunity. Conversely, there are those for whom this is a kind of horror show.
The issue isn’t necessarily generational but in fact it is unlikely to be this, once we get past the clichés. It is more likely to be an issue of whether what we do is relevant to the virtual work priorities. If your people are at the margins of what is now key to survival, then it is no wonder that they fear being peripheral to the future.
Equally, home working is an environmental issue. If you’re lucky enough to live in a house with spare rooms or office space, fine. However, we’ve seen into each other’s houses recently.
Many are perched in kitchens. I’ve seen one person in a hallway, many in spare bedrooms, sat on the edge of their bed. Modern houses and apartments, the latter already the smallest on average in Western Europe, don’t have designed space for home working. In fact, many don’t have designed space for wardrobes! If we’re going to rethink work patterns, we need to build home environments capable of sustaining work.
And then, of course, there is time. My average working day has increased by 50%. How’s yours? For the in-groups in our organisations this is going to be normal. For the peripheral or excluded functions, hours will reduce and time will drag. Leave aside the obvious ‘fixes’ and furlough’s, this is a future cohesion issue.
How does a disregarded group get reintegrated? How can non-core staff find value later? You know the people at work you nod to as you pass by? Well, you may not even do that anymore. But you’ll be on nodding terms with them again sooner or later. Do you wonder what they think as they nod back?
For me, the biggest change facing us relates to our understanding of competence. What virtual working clearly demonstrates is the critical value of social connection, of sharing, listening and generating know-how. The dangerous myth of individual competence is going to be the biggest victim of the lockdown. And, not before time!
Ask your IT people to calculate how much time is being spent by your workforce in Zoom or Teams (other platforms are available). It will be massive and this time will be increasing. When we achieve, we do so with and through each other, combining, integrating, exploring.
We might measure by individual, but we perform socially, in groups, teams, communities, families. The individual competent is dead. Long live generative teams! Perhaps, at long last, we will get into the 21st century in terms of performance management and development and abandon individual measurement. It’s a 19th century anachronism, born out of deeply non-diverse and divisive attitudes to others by those in authority. Those of you who have heard me speak will know this is one of my themes. Let’s bin this nonsense and rethink.
We’ve taken a walk through the fractured landscape that is the world of work that our colleagues now occupy. Perhaps we should now look forward to some of the opportunities that we could take advantage of.
Incredibly, we pay most of our key workers appallingly low salaries. We pay people who invent financial instruments to rip people off, a fortune. It is time to re-evaluate how and why we reward people. It is time to put human social value at the heart of reward.
We have the opportunity to think about work environments and how we encourage innovation, dialogue and generation. Many people in our organisations will have found new, inclusive and clever ways of working together. Let’s collate this and turn our organisations into a collage of collaboration and cohesion.
We can revitalise the meaning of what we do. We have the opportunity to align purpose to human health, social sustainability and environmental respect. And by respect I mean we should question every input in order to eliminate every single thing that is unnecessary in what we do.
We have the opportunity to create resilient organisations, generating leadership as its people work, enhancing and holding each other as we go through our day.
We have the opportunity to connect people and technology. Not in the fearful dystopia of humans falling uselessly by the kerbside as our shiny avatar strides by, having assumed our identity. But humans enhanced through tools designed to enhance our uniquely human advantages of imagination, collaboration, love, friendship, humour and respect. In this collective economic pause we have a unique opportunity to think, rethink and revitalise.
So, let’s do it.
Click here for more information on Roffey Park Institute