The point of no return

Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

We’re not going back.  

The way we work in 2020 and 2021 looks nothing like the way we worked in 2019.  

We might sail back a little towards the ‘old world’ after the Covid crisis, but not back into port.  The prevailing wind isn’t blowing that way. It would prove treacherous. 

As we move from the old world to the new world, the shape of the new landscape looks more defined. You can see big opportunities if you look closely enough; fresh and fertile land.

What can you see?

Trust

Firstly, bosses trust us more than they ever thought possible.  

Like a parent realising they don’t need to run alongside their child’s bike anymore, they know we won’t crash.  

We aren’t crashing into our duvets and ‘shirking from home’.  We like getting things done without the constant distraction of the office. Instead of working less at home, we’re working more.

Older workers, parents and introverts especially love working from home. Happier and more productive, they’d take a 14% pay cut to keep doing it.  

The rest will like it more when technology brings things they loved about the office to the home.

Social Capital

Social Capital is the name economists give to the benefits (especially the financial benefits) of team spirit and collaboration. At work, this means teams sitting together, water cooler chats, brainstorms, break-out spaces, new-employee onboarding programmes, networking and the nearest bar to the office.  

The growth of collaboration software, which accelerated through the Covid crisis, means remote working needn’t turn off the Social Capital tap.  

In fact, collaboration software can allow Social Capital to build both remotely and asynchronously. We needn’t be together, in space or time, to work together.  

When we do have meetings, ever-improving video tools like Zoom and Webex, are drawing remote synchronous collaboration closer to ‘in-person’ quality. 

Better meetings

It needn’t stop there, Cisco has a vision in which online meetings are 10x better than live meetings.  For one, they remove the inconvenience of travelling into the city, between cities or halfway across the globe.

Sure, you can get ‘Zoom fatigue’ if the meeting is run badly, but bad meetings didn’t arrive with Covid.  It’s just a new variant of ‘badly run meeting fatigue’. 

The cure is, and always was, the preparation it takes to run a meeting well. Combine good preparation with tools like Slido, Miro and Cameo and online meetings can be electric, ‘lean forward’ experiences.

 As workers grow used to the efficiencies and inclusiveness of using tools like these in meetings, the use of them will grow. Managers who fail to be good meeting managers will get left behind.

Good people management 

Managers who fail to be good people managers will get left behind too. 

Introverts might enjoy being at home, but they will find it harder to catch their manager at a good time for a quiet word. Tools like Slido help managers hear every voice.

Now is a time for softer leadership skills. Listening, coaching, mentoring and counseling will be key to preventing alienation and burn out amongst team members. From one-to-ones to all-hand meetings, communication needs to be a two-way street.

When we do go back to the office, if only part-time, a good manager will work to ensure that hybrid meetings, with some attendees in the office and some on screen, don’t prioritise the former.  We don’t need to rebuild toxic presenteeism in a new, post-Covid form.

And if we don’t?

Of course, bad managers haven’t gone away.  

Since the start of the crisis, investment in employee surveillance technology, to keep tabs on remote workers, has multiplied .  Nothing kills trust faster. 

Equally, there are those keen to get their team back into the office, where they can see them, 5-days a week.  They look forward to familiar forms of control, like presenteeism and the gilded cage of a well-appointed city-centre office. 

But, if other companies don’t enforce a full time return, what is to stop a brain drain to companies offering remote working, flexibility, and line-managers who listen? These things will beat a flash, city centre office in the new world. 

It’s not just about employees either. Those that relied on that flash city centre office and the surrounding restaurants to build client relationships will have to think again. Learn to create magical moments of connection digitally and win the spoils.

Little space for old thinking

Still think you’re going back to the office?

If you do, digest this:  the hottest trend of the next decade for private equity will be purchasing companies to make them ‘remote-first’.  

The cost savings on real-estate, enabled by the rapid pivot to digitization caused by Covid, will be staggering, and not just for private equity firms. 

Offices will be smaller.  Instead of open plan rooms full of desks, they will be hubs for meetings and socialising that you visit occasionally, not daily.  

Some companies will have no office but occasionally use purpose-built retreats that allow entire companies to fly into a campus for a synchronous week.

Less tied to a regular office location, people will be able to live further away from the office, enjoying the benefits of towns and rural areas over cities; more space and lower living costs. 

They will be able to look further for work, even across national borders, avoiding the traditional upheaval of relocating.

We’ve come a long way

We’ve come a long way since we hurriedly left the ‘old world’.  We’re not going back.

We’ve learned too much. Companies have learnt to trust their teams and workers have learnt to operate collaboration software. It would be foolish to unlearn these, and other lessons of the pandemic.

The opportunities we’re sailing to in the new world are enormous.  Good collaborators and managers should welcome the fact that we’ve already turned the point of no return.

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