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Work in the Post Pandemic World

Even if you have maintained your health and financial wellbeing, Tuesday Report readers agree that the Pandemic is the most disruptive force most of us have ever experienced.  Like a huge storm blowing through our world,  so many things are still up in the air, and we don’t know where they’ll end up when they come down.

It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who got swept up in a tornado in Oklahoma and then ended up in the in the strange Land of Oz.  Like Dorothy, we’re off to a new reality, and we don’t know if we will find ourselves on the Yellow Brick Road—or or f we’ll just end up in a pile of rubble.  We have all sorts of people predicting where things will end up, but nobody knows.

Yet with our faint view of the future, nothing is more important than to trace the path from where we’ve come to where we’re going—and the most fundamental point to remember is that we’re not going back to where we were.

Some of the most fundamental questions we’ll be answering in the next couple of years are these:

  • Where will we be showing up for work and how will that impact you? 
  • How will that change you, your organization, its success, and yours?

The world has been long overdue on a major shakeup in the way the workplace works.  Showing up for work at a specific time, a prescribed number of hours, a daily routine, began in the Industrial Revolution—over 200 years ago. 

In the late 1700’s people piled out of farms and showed up at factories—it was suddenly the age of mass production.  In the service/technology world of work today, the need for a definite schedule in a fixed place has been eroding for the last 100 years—yet we couldn’t  give it up.

Until the pandemic.  As one reader put it, the pandemic has pushed us into the 21st Century.

So if we have been able to work remotely for nearly two years successfully, why show up now?  It is especially difficult for families to manage child care.  Businesses providing space for people to show up and coaxing them with amenities such as chef-prepared lunches daily and breakrooms brimming with snacks is a big deal.  It’s also most probably a thing of the past

But there are some really important questions that are still being answered that go against what we’ve thought to be true pretty well since the dawn of civilization.

  1. Will people work hard?  This is the “elephant in the room” question.  In the old days most people would have agreed that without the command and control function of a boss on the premises, the refrigerator might well become command central in the home office environment. 

    Based on data that has been consistent over many decades, it is true that a whopping 40% of people who show up for work would definitely rather be somewhere else.  

    The key to winning the hearts and minds of employees is creating goals that motivate and a leadership that people want to follow.  These two factors can be present or absent no matter whether the employee is at the office or home.  Effectiveness comes from a team that has its heart and soul in accomplishing the goal. 

  2. Can Teams Connect Effectively If They’re Not Down the Hall?  Not having your team members down the hallt to connect with them at key moments would have seemed to be an insurmountable problem two years ago.  Spontaneous meetings in passing and afternoon get togethers after work seemed to be the oil of progress.   

    Living on video has been exhausting, but many advantages have emerged.  In the two years we’ve been doing alignment sessions, team meetings, and virtual socials , online video conferencing has actually proved to be in some cases more effective than in person because tighter agendas and more focused strategy sessions can really enable groups to focus and collaborate effectively. 

    Many 1:1 meetings seem to be at least as effective via video.  However, people report they have MORE meetings not fewer in the virtual world and the meeting that would have been a shoulder-tap 5-minute conversation is now a pre-scheduled 30-minute zoom call.  As a result, the people you most need are increasingly hard to schedule.   And how long can virtual meetings, without person-to-person meetings, continue to be effective

  3. Can You Hold an Organization Together Remotely?  Can you create and maintain organizational momentum and direction in a remote organization where team members don’t see each other in person and many team leaders have never met the people they hired?  In the months that have elapsed since the beginning of the pandemic, there are many hold-over relationships between people who worked together in person.  As an organization becomes more remote and virtual, can you create new initiatives with people you’ve never met in person?

    This isn’t a question that can be easily answered.  Working though videoconferencing will remain a part of the way organizations function for the foreseeable future.  Most organizations are seeing hybrid models in the future where people come into the office part time, and we believe that as the danger of the pandemic subsidges, organizations will have more company-wide gatherings to supplement virtual day to day meetings..  The need to draw energy from a general meeting is important and probably part of the fabric of the way humans work. 

The thing to remember is that the pandemic didn’t cause any of the changes we’re seeing in the way organizations function.  Nothing has happened that wouldn’t have happened over time.   Eventually organizations will find what we’re calling the “new normal.”  In the meantime we’ll experience a realignment that won’t be complete for several years.  Those organizations that embrace effective change can align for exceptional success.

What is the possibility that when the rate of infections drops to the point that masks are a thing of the past and new variants are quickly controlled, that the last few years be forgotten, like the historic case of the 1918 flu which hasn’t been part of our collective memories for 100 years?

Not likely. 

The economics of remote work favor both management and employees.  Both stand to save a remarkable amount of money and time.  It would seem likely that commercial real estate will be the big loser in many markets.  But the answer to this question is at least two years away.  Following the trends to see where we end up will be something that will require the best thinking of all of us.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(512) 498-9780

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