Going to work: what does that mean now? (This article was written on 12 October 2020). A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the future of office spaces called ‘Can your office be Covid safe and sociable?’. It’s now nearly November and ‘if you can work from home then work from home’ is back on the agenda (in the UK). So where exactly does that leaves us? Or more importantly where does it leave our teams? Do we have the support networks in place to help our team’s wellbeing? How do they feel about it all? And how can we facilitate those conversations to put action in place to support?
Yet again we are probably left with more questions than answers.
There are three things I have observed over the last month and they all need careful consideration moving forward:
- A lot of people enjoy the process of ‘going to work’
- The re-opening of offices, in whatever guise and under whatever rules, had given people positivity about the situation we found ourselves in
- The art of communication
Let’s explore these in a bit more detail.
Before Covid-19 everyone had their ‘going to work’ routine, it just came naturally and was all done on autopilot. For most office-based teams this was disrupted instantly following lockdown and during the last few months, I’ve had several colleagues say, ‘I enjoyed the process of going to work’. Perhaps it is driven by the consistency and normality that we all crave in a world that is changing by the day. We would get up, get ready and leave the house to travel to work. It is a change of scenery; we are not at home, so we automatically put our work hat on.
I’ve explored this a little further and spoken to people who have their own business and have always worked from home. Guess what, they have a ‘going to work’ routine too! They recognised the importance of ‘work mode’. Some of them call it remote working or flexibly working, not working from home, and I think this is a very important difference for our remote teams. It creates a break between work and home life, even though we are within the same four walls.
Having worked flexibly in previous roles I realised the importance of creating the feeling of being at work during lockdown; whilst permanently sitting at home in shorts and a t-shirt. But it has taken time for me to create the right environment (and process, I now get dressed for work!) and we must recognise that our teams might be finding it challenging.
Some people may be struggling with motivation, they might be suffering with isolation and it may even be putting a strain on personal relationships. Are we giving our teams the support? Or indeed are we providing our managers with the skills to spot behavioural changes that could signify the need for support?
The steady re-opening of offices was bringing some sense of normality back into our lives, whether we were working in those offices or not. Teams were genuinely looking forward to seeing each other and businesses put great plans in place to ensure a safe and secure return. Some businesses had completed weeks of planning and were days away from their office being re-opened. They have quickly had to U-turn following the recent government advice. This has led to further frustration, disappointment and worry about what the future holds for their teams.
Because we only ever saw WFH as a temporary change in our circumstances, it has become incredibly unsettling for people who hadn’t created their ‘going to work’ routine. Walking from the kitchen to the box bedroom, or wherever they ‘temporarily’ set up their office, wasn’t going to last forever, was it?
As leaders we must support our teams through this current challenge, with flexible working the norm rather than a temporary option. But flexible working is different to working from home, and it is important that our teams understand this and as leaders we support it. Flexible working means you can work anywhere that provides the facilities and technology you need. For my job, this could be an office, my front room, a coffee shop, even one of our pubs.
If there is coffee, electricity and WIFI I’m happy (and productive).
Therefore, we must create positivity about it and give them options to support it. The key to this is my final point … communication.
To put it simply, our teams like to, and want to, know what is going on and what boundaries they can operate within. In my experience, when your team is remote, you can never communicate enough. Even if you have nothing to tell your teams, tell them you have nothing to tell them. Be honest with them. You will be surprised how much our teams value honesty in the current environment. They are not only worried about their health but the future of their jobs too! And they want to know their leaders understand that.
Here are some simple rules to consider when it comes to communication:
- Plan, Plan and then Plan some more – have a strategy to communicate to the team
- Be consistent – tell everyone the same thing at the same time
- Make it 360 degrees – give the team a way of asking questions
- ‘Open door’ policy – as a leader make yourself visible and make yourself accessible
- Virtual World – use videos, social media and consider the use of a central information hub
Our teams are the life blood of our organisations, and they need their leaders to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to show them the way forward. Support them with their wellbeing, be confident and tell them everything you know (or in some cases don’t know). And finally, listen to what they have to say, and act on it.
Tony Dungy, the NFL coach once said “Good Leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or staff better”.
In a world where there are more questions than answers, our teams need our leadership more than ever.