Over the past couple of months, we have got used to the new ways of working:- working from home, video calls, online collaboration tools, lockdown hair, not travelling, informal business attire etc. At first remote working was seen as a temporary workaround to the lockdown situation however now we realise this is now the new normal. As with all things new, there some unintended benefits. A couple of days ago I overheard a conversation about how the current situation has impacted the ways of working and the comment was made about how the chat function with teams meant that they were getting more questions, often from the quieter, more introvert members. As with all things new, there some unintended benefits. Here are a few that come to mind.

The first big unexpected benefit is that we see our colleagues as people rather than job titles and roles. We have all had multiple video calls. These, for those of us that can’t be bothered to blur or use a humorous background, have been very revealing. Books – do we have any/many? What titles by which authors neatly ordered on shelves or scattered in piles etc; Boxes – ready to move, have moved or just very well organised; Pictures (or lack of) on the walls, musical instruments, colour scheme (or lack of), clutter in the background, general tidiness etc. All satisfy our natural nosiness and invoke our unconscious bias. However, they also reveal a lot about ourselves. Then there are interruptions: doorbells; telephones; zoombombers; sirens; doors which mysteriously open then quickly close etc. These all reveal way more about us than we care to admit. But the real benefit is these things show we are more similar and we have more in common than we actually thought.

The second unexpected benefit is the realisation that our daily commute to the office and the office environment did far more damage than we realised. No stressful commute in overcrowded trains, buses or roads. Less long distance travel by air. This has meant lower pollution and no commute costs. Office politics seem far less at the forefront of our behaviours. We are less concerned about our workwear, more concerned about our comfort than the latest trends or power suits. Personal grooming, especially with the closure of hairdressers, gyms, spas, nail salons etc, has taken a back seat, and we have seen the rise of the “lockdown” haircut. Even the humble office fridge and the energy filled (sugar laden) treats contained means less unhealthy snacking. Then there is the environmental impact, for example, electricity consumption dropping by around 20% during the lockdown.

The third benefit (and the one that triggered this list) is modern collaboration tools have created greater egality. The traditional office order has become lessened. Submitting questions, sometimes anonymously, via text or chat, means the quieter, more introvert members of team are able to have their voice heard in ways they previously were unable to. Likewise, it is easier to ask questions directly to senior members of the team in a way that has not previously been possible, which has helped “flatten” organisations.

We realise it is ok not to be present at every meeting. This means we’ve becoming more selective which meetings we attend in person and which, with meetings are being recorded, we can catch up later.

We’ve also become more creative with our tools, using them in ways not originally envisaged – virtual offices created from virtual conferencing platforms, video conferencing being used to host virtual quizzes, book, wine or other clubs and special interest groups. The creation of virtual watercoolers for banter, chat and gossip, or the creation of a virtual canteen or lunch-room to maintain social contact and generally keep in touch.

A further benefit is the adoption of more productive work behaviours. We realise that the traditional 9-5 is not the way we work best. We seem to work best in short, focused sprints. An agile work pattern with “natural” breaks means we can be more flexible which in turn leads to greater productivity. We can choose the type of break – maybe exercise, mindfulness, going shopping or just getting on with a few jobs around the house – when we break and how often. We can work in ways we can not in the office, which in turn leads to greater satisfaction and productive behaviours.

Through lockdown we have developed a willingness to try or do new things, such making banana bread or baking the perfect sourdough. We have used this time to pick up new skills and hobbies. This has given us a confidence and willingness to try new things that was previous absent or hidden in case we publically failed.

However, the final, and perhaps the most important unexpected benefit is that businesses finally trust their people to work remotely. I am a big fan of spotting corporate double-speak. One example “We’re Collaborative” yet we operate on Lotus Notes or similar outdated, non-collaboration platform. “We’re open and innovative” yet the business runs on legacy systems that are closed and actually discourages innovation. My personal favourite was “Our people are our business” but we don’t trust them to work from home. At last, and long overdue, that myth has well and truly been busted. Looks like I’ll need to find a new favourite.

Connect with Mark Sweeney (Director of Professional Services)

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