Pondering the Future: What do we want to take with us?

At the moment, it feels like we are on the periphery of change. As new laws are introduced and others are relaxed, it’s only a matter of time before we start to head back into the office on a more regular basis. From the biggest players in the global market to SMEs in the UK, we are seeing that many businesses are turning towards permanent remote working as a longer-term ‘insurance policy’ – keeping their people safe and keeping costs down. 

Mark Zuckerberg recently revealed that over the next five to ten years, at least 50% of Facebook’s employees the world over will be remote workers. Smaller businesses in the UK are downsizing their offices, in favour of so-called ‘hubs’, where hotdesking will be the only solution and team members will visit the office on a rotational or need-to-be-there basis. 

That said, the adjustment to remote working has not been easy for everyone. The challenge of creating a conducive set up alone is a challenge for people up and down the country, and the world over. What many people have been through since the introduction of the lockdown is akin to the seven stages of grief. I’d say that, currently, many people are quite genuinely depressed with the situation. The novelty very quickly wore off, combined with mass confusion relating to the ‘do’s and ‘do not’s have left people feeling weary, disheartened and exhausted. Research by some American doctors has indicated that as many as one in four people will suffer from PTSD as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

While it’s easy to dwell on the negatives and to worry about what the future may or may not look like, there are certainly things I’ve learned about myself and about running a business since March of this year, and things that I am keen to take into a post-pandemic world with me.

Safeguarding and caring for our people

Before the lockdown was formally introduced, and we were still working from our offices, we were forced to look at safeguarding our people in a new way. This specifically relates to physical wellbeing, however many elements have prevailed throughout the lockdown. It’s now commonplace to just simply check in with your teams, either collectively or one-on-one, in ways that we may not have made time for before. Video conferencing somewhat dehumanises the process of talking about our feelings and emotions, and many have found it easier to admit when they’re not feeling great, have had a bad night’s sleep, or are feeling like they need more support.

Focusing on mental health and physical wellbeing

It’s been one of the biggest conversations throughout the last 3-months: how are you coping? How are you sleeping? Have you done any exercise this week? Considering our team’s health (both mental and physical) has, over the past few years, been of increasing importance and more and more businesses across the spectrum are talking about it.

What we’re now seeing are businesses creating dedicated health policies, implementing all-hands meetings with a specific focus on how people are feeling and what the business can do to better support them, having mental health coaches and working with psychologists and therapists to act as an extension of the support system and generally making the conversation of mental and physical health, be them challenges or complications, more commonplace and making big steps to remove some of the stigma attached.

Understanding that flexibility doesn’t just relate to where we work

We’ve all been forced to be flexible and work in ways that we weren’t expected: once your dining room table, the place you and your family shared your Sunday lunch, now your dedicated office space. Once your bedroom, now home to a folding desk and an uncomfortable Ikea chair. Or, once the home office you used to use sporadically, now frequented by both you and your partner. We’re all doing things in terms of our locations to make this work. 

The next step on from this has been the wider acceptance of the hours in which we get our work done. At Culture Consultancy, we’ve long since talked about the premise of giving your people responsibility and ownership, and that as long as you are clear and articulate your expectations for the end of the week/month/quarter, and you’ve provided the tools and resources your people need to succeed, there’s no reason they can’t do this away from the office and at less traditional times of the day. 

Childcare, homeschooling, working out, needing a lie in after suffering from a bout of lockdown-induced insomnia. These are all things people are dealing with daily and, as such, we’re seeing that it has become far more acceptable to work at seemingly random times of the day, as long as we’re hitting those goals and contributing as we normally would.

Making social connections a priority

Zoom fatigue has made this one particularly tough over the past month or so, but it’s become more and more evident that we’re missing some of the things that we may have otherwise found mundane. Coffee catch-ups, lunchtime chats, Thursday evening trips to the pub, leaning over the desk for the chat with your colleague about the date they went on last night, the list goes on! Tools like Slack and MS Teams have made communicating during these times easier, however, it’s just not the same. Those who have continued to bring their teams together successfully during this time, and have ridden the wave from Zoom quizzes to trips to the ‘pub’ to having open video calls, which people can drop themselves into as and when they fancy, are the ones who will have better connected teams upon return to normality, and it’s likely their teams will be committed to keeping the friendships and connections going.

Celebrating successes and quickly recovering from the negatives

An extension of making time for your teams, either individually or collectively, is the celebration of successes. Wins during the time of the pandemic have felt like real highs, and it’s so important to celebrate them and to recognise the contributions and inputs different people have had, and to say a genuine thank you. It’s not been easy for anyone, down from Founders and CEOs to your graduates and new recruits. Creating a culture where the negatives, the lost pitches or moments where the ball has been dropped can be quickly learned, and moved on, from is something that will benefit us all in the future.

Derek Bishop
Derek is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change strategies and has previously worked with businesses ranging from VC-backed SMEs to large corporates. He is a regular speaker and guest writer.
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