How are we doing seven months on from the first lockdown? Our mass experiment in remote working – the results are in!
The data is largely positive – a swift and widespread adaptation to new working practices, cultures & techniques. Every age group is happier WFH. A recent survey shows over ¾ of UK CEOs say WFH is here to stay. Greater flexibility, digital transformation, and less office space look set to be permanent features.
Pros & cons of remote working
Remote working has been productive – we can do far more things than we were told was possible. We’ve been held back from taking advantage of the way the internet has enabled communication. It’s broken down barriers and we’ve seen each other more humanely. Remote working has allowed us to settle into deeper rhythms, do deep work and be more creative.
The cons – we’ve struggled to read a room, and we miss those little moments of serendipity. The office is a wonderful workshop that makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves – a collective brain. Here’s Sandy Pentland on the surprising benefits of office chitchat – “a great person to find yourself going down a YouTube black hole with”. He dissects how we use offices and found the best bits are those face-to-face conversations we have with our colleagues when we’re not under pressure to perform and can talk freely, i.e. problem solve.
A hybrid model
It’s not helpful to pit office work VS remote work as has been the narrative in the media. Our challenge is maintaining the productivity of WFH with the benefits of working with colleagues. Preserving the feeling that we can get work done while keeping the collective brain. It seems more companies will take a blended approach with teams coming together on certain days to brainstorm (and share food ;-) at the office or a local hotel.
A blueprint of good work
If you’re thinking about your next steps, start with the RSA’s blueprint for good work – 8 ideas for a new social contract. They’ve set a level of expectation about what good work is based on three essential elements – wellbeing, growth & nurture. It’s a good time to reflect on how we can create sustainable work.
Wellbeing is about feeling connected. 85% - 90% of people have enjoyed WFH, but 10% say their mental health has got significantly worse. Loneliness and disconnection are a consequence of WFH.
Growth – Learning is casual in the office – we witness our colleagues and learn from them. Some of that has been lost, and we’re now in a state of perpetual busyness. We have more digital demands which aren’t conducive to learning. Trust has also been an issue in companies. We didn’t trust people to get the job done, which is our flaw. When people feel unable to assert autonomy, it ceases to be good work and feels more like a prison. People need creative freedom – let’s maintain this spirit.
Nurture – allowing our work identity to develop. Being less visible e.g. minority groups can have an impact on our work and wellbeing.
Why you need to hire a community manager
Back in July, Sarah Drinkwater posted on Twitter that companies will be looking to hire community managers. The skill of building community will be incredibly valuable to them – helping us to feel connected to each other from behind our screens. It’s about fostering a sense of shared identity with our work communities but also celebrating individuality and diversity – this is why homogenous group events don’t always work.
Bruce interviewed her for a series on community – 🎧 here. Good insights into what we can draw from religion and ritual to develop strong bonds at work. Those little moments that create energy, momentum and keep us plugged into the collective brain.
Celebrating individuality and diversity
Tech companies have created campuses to encourage us to stay at work for longer. Everything we need on-site. Advertising is the same – it’s very seductive – free breakfasts, cafes, pool tables, rooftop parties. It creates a homogenous identity & culture that can feel a bit cultish. Some companies are moving away from this trend. It’s more creative not to be part of an intentional community/corporate culture. The emotional heartbeat is colonising and exhausting because you’re always performing. Less conformity means we can bring our whole selves to work and say what we really think. It leads to better communication and ideas.
We’re renegotiating our relationship with work. If we get this right and remove the performance, artifice & burden of work, it will liberate us. This is a huge opportunity for us all.
The gendered impacts of remote work
Be aware of the uneven distribution of work. Women still do the bulk of the housework and have done even more during lockdown. Working from home is a privilege. As someone said, “there hasn’t been a lockdown. Middle-class people stay at home and the working-class bring things to them.” Depressing but true. There’s also an age imbalance – older people are happier WFH as they are more likely to have a spare room while younger colleagues in flatshares are working from their bedrooms.
Be aware of the problems and check in – a phone call goes a long way. Ask people what they need to make their WFH set up more comfortable. Send snacks and Hello Fresh deliveries. Offer to pay for co-working space. Hire that community manager. Set your Slack status to available so people know when you’re free to chat. Do these things for yourself if you work alone.
This week I’ve set up a Slack channel and upgraded my Zoom account, so I can co-work for longer than 40 minutes (you’re welcome). I’ve applied for a fellowship at the RSA and treated myself to a BFI annual subscription – catch up on the London Film Festival and latest releases.
Just need to sort a projector for my home cinema - recommendations welcome!
2/ Eat Sleep Work Repeat 🎧 – community managers – the next hot trend at work. Exploring different aspects of community and what we can learn from religion and ritual to create strong bonds. Get 20% off Bruce’s book, The Joy of Work, at Foyles with the code FOYLESRSA20.
5/ The New York Times At Home – their best suggestions for how to live a full and cultured life during the pandemic, at home. Things that are lightening your mood and making your days a bit better. If you’re feeling a bit short on delight, this might help. They’ve got the tone just right – informative but uplifting. No wonder they’re thriving. The Guardian, take note – your app is so depressing!