“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” — Gail Sheehy
The pandemic changed our world overnight demanding agility, flexibility and innovation on every level. Businesses, leaders and teams adjusted to survive, leaving individuals to work from their kitchen table or a bedroom corner. Now that we’re almost half-way through 2021, this trend continues as the office as we knew it has changed. In fact, our trusty cubicle with last year’s baseball schedule could be gone or the spacious corner office with our magnificent Dracaena plant, could disappear or become the marketing department’s co-working space.
Dina Gerdeman, writing for the Harvard Business School (March 8, 2021) interviewed several prominent business faculty members and came away with the following conclusions about the so-called “normal office space”:
- We’re probably going hybrid. If you value your co-workers, be sure to prioritize your face-to-face time with them. You may not see them in-person that often.
- Scheduling will change, but it’s workable. We must also honor flexibility within the hybrid arrangement. One week we could be in-person in the office two-days a week, the next week it could be three.
- Be honest with your employees. Change is difficult enough so have honest conversations and share what you know with employees. We’re all going to get through this, so let’s do it as a team.
- Value the human soul. We may all be overlooking the pain of loneliness. Experts tell us that 100 percent virtual arrangements may not be the best way to go.
- Compassion and care-giving will be the rule. Changes dictate that we are all sensitive to the needs of others. However, be fair and set policies that honor everyone.
- Lead with empathy. We’re still changing, and many of us are over-stressed and burned-out. Kindness cannot be overlooked.
- Despite the changes, the work still has to be done. If one employee finds that working remotely from a vine-covered villa in Tuscany works for her two weeks out of each month (I want that job), she must still be expected to complete the work assignment.
With Change, Comes Self-Awareness
If all this change-talk has your head spinning, you’re not alone. About a year ago, as there were the first hints of a vaccine, The New York Times ran a piece (May 31, 2020) entitled: “What if you don’t want to go back to the office?”
While many workers are extolling the virtues of remote work, many others (and for different reasons) weren’t so sure. In fact, the detractors of virtual were dug into their positions:
“Trying to meet on Zoom from a kitchen table with bored children and annoyed spouses complaining in the background is hardly good for productivity. Women say that video calls make it harder for them to get in a word during meetings dominated by men. This crisis has also increased the burdens on working mothers. As we shelter in place in the pandemic, more employers are using software to track our work — and us.
Telecommuting was already a growing trend that left out many low-wage workers and was viewed warily by employers who worried people were slacking off at home. Researchers warned that problem solving and creativity suffer when workers are isolated from one another. Isolated work can lead to loneliness and boredom. Remote workers have also reported they have had to work even longer hours.”
It will take a lot of change management to bring everyone together, and we had better start by honoring the fear of change as well as the opportunity. No one’s point of view should be trivialized.
Early Adopter or Constant Complainers?
But at the same time, change is inevitable. At one point and not all that long ago, the electric typewriter was at the height of office technology. When the computer took over, there were early adopters and constant complainers. It will always be the case.
What path should we take for the workplace? Should we stay or should we go?
The true issue is that we all have choices to make within our workplaces but more so, within ourselves. 2021 has the potential to be a fantastic year if we are all willing to BE fantastic, right here and now. Change can be exciting if we realize that virtually every workplace is figuring it out together.
We might have to play the old game of “Musical Chairs” in our offices’ space for a while, and we might have to change our opinions from “No way” to “Let’s see,” but we just might come out of the old way of doing things with something that is better, including us.
Finally, it is good to remember that before COVID-19, every workplace change we have talked about in this post was unfolding toward this point, but at a slower rate. From video-conferencing to co-working spaces, the workplace was already in change. Let’s give change a chance. You may like it.