What does your best working life look like?

Working remotely is here to stay and with it brings a mix of opportunities and challenges.

Working flexibly is here to stay and with it brings a mix of opportunities and challenges for working life. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, the flexibility to work at the time of day when you’re at your best.

Now we can return to our offices we can meet our colleagues in real life, reinstate the water cooler chats and opportunities to bounce ideas off each other and feel more connected and motivated.

There’s a definite downside though.

When working life is at home boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. Many of us can feel that life is all work with no space to really switch off, and this plays havoc with our personal life and our wellbeing.

The transition from 100% home working to spending more time in the office has a lot of challenges for organisations and individuals to overcome.

Now is a great opportunity to rewrite how we work.

This concept of a 9-5 day is left over from the industrial revolution, where for the masses work meant being part of a production line; where everyone had to be there at the same time to build the thing. You’ve probably noticed over the last couple of years that you don’t naturally work from 9-5. You have a natural flow throughout the day of when you do your best thinking, when you are tired or when ideas seem to flow better. Maybe you’re a night owl and you do your best work at 11pm or perhaps you do your best work before anyone else in your household wakes up. We’re all different.  I’m seeing a gradual shift in the presenteeism mindset, and a pragmatism from organisations that as long as employees deliver on time, when they do the work is less of an issue. The greater challenge is how this plays out when some employees are at the office and others are not.

How do we tackle inclusion?

Inclusion is feeling included. Have you ever been to a friend’s wedding on your own where you didn’t know anyone? You’re all there to celebrate with the bride and groom on their happy day. And whilst you were most definitely part of the celebrations, did you feel included?

Inclusion is different for everyone. What makes one person feel included is different from what makes someone else feel included. Inclusion plays a big part in a healthy, happy and productive team dynamic. Inclusion was already a challenge when everyone turned up to the same office each day. This is a really big challenge now people are not all in the same place at the same time.

I remember working in a regional team and used to get irritated when the all-staff email came round to say help yourself to cake in the kitchen because it was someone’s birthday. Not in my kitchen in my regional office there wasn’t. When people are working remotely you can take this principle and multiply it by a million. Every communication that isn’t inclusive creates a tension.

I’ve recently been running a series of storytelling training workshops for a client. Originally they were planned to be in person. This would have meant everyone travelling to London. Being in a room together would have had it’s advantages, the informal chats over lunch, it’s generally less tiring being in a room than staring at a screen and as a facilitator it’s easier to read a real room than a Zoom room. However, the feedback has been that it’s been much more inclusive to have the training online. Those travelling from outside London didn’t have the travel time, an overnight stay and childcare and travel logistics to contend with. It meant that it was easier and more accessible for people to attend.

As you work out what working life looks like consider what inclusion might look like. Someone who is in the office all the time will have a completely different experience from someone who turns up occasionally. The occasional person misses the chat in the kitchen over a coffee, bouncing ideas around, informal chats on the way to lunch or a meeting. They miss the accidental sparks of inspiration and motivation which makes them feel included.

What works for individuals and what works for the business?

Everyone is different. To name just a few differences, you’ll have a mix of introverts, extroverts, reflectors, active learners and people at different stages in their career. Each individual has different needs, for example, broadly speaking the introverts will have managed working remotely better than the extroverts who will be craving being back in a room with people. The introverts are more likely to feel reluctant about coming back to an office 5 days a week. You’ll have people at different career stages. Those that are early in their career, often in a shared house and working from a bedroom fighting for bandwidth will likely have a preference to come back to the office. The social aspect of an office life and the after-work drinks that go with that is way more important than when you’re older. Colleagues with families tend to live further away from the office and whose home life is more set up for working from home will be less likely to want to rush back. Early career employees will miss out on so much learning, if the more experienced colleagues are at home, both in terms of knowledge but also those soft skills; there’s no opportunity to learn from how more experienced colleagues behave and carry themselves.

Creating the new team dynamic that works for you

There’s no silver bullet, no blueprint and no single right way to manage this transition to a post-pandemic different way of working and ensure your team has resilience and motivation for the future. (Sorry about that) I hope this article has provoked some thoughts and here’s some things to consider as you make your own roadmap.

  • There is not going to be any sort of landmark when everything goes back to ‘new normal’. We will be living with the ripples of the pandemic for the rest of our lives.
  • Don’t fret about what you can’t change. Focus on what is in your sphere of influence.
  • Create the water cooler moments, the downtime and space to think. If you don’t deliberately create them they won’t just happen.
  • Be aware of, but not guided by the limitations of the past. Reflect, notice what the pandemic has challenged you to do. What have you learned? What are the different ways of working that you can incorporate going forward? For example have you moved faster or stopped decision by committee. Write it down and don’t fall back into old patterns of thinking and working.
  • Everyone is different and has different needs making inclusion is a very difficult task. Do everything you can to understand the different needs in your team to help inform your decisions.

What are your thoughts?

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