I have often longed for a life of perfect balance where the hours spent in peak hour traffic and on client site are minimised, providing the perfect lifestyle that maximises time with family and promotes personal health and well being. But the reality is, we work when and where we are most needed and this is very rarely on our ideal terms.
I envisaged this future world, perhaps only 5-10 years away, where individuals work remotely, in isolation, independently and in a manner more akin to ‘task’ not ‘time’. Fast forward a mere few months and we have found ourselves in this very test case, not of our choosing, not on our terms, not with time to prepare the perfect transition.
It crept up on us and the adjustment was fast, in a matter of a few days we knew we would be expected to vacate the building. Some started remote working pre-emptively, some waited in anticipation - When will it start? How will it work? Will it work? Will I like it? Will I be successful? Will our team, project, function be able to deliver our objectives? How long will it last?
Very quickly, operational teams mobilised technology capabilities that previously would have taken months or years to implement, procurement processes were waived, laptops ordered, bandwidth loaded and security rightly embedded in the conversation.
The foundations laid out as quickly as possible, providing the best chance to continue business as usual, remotely. Heads of IT professed ‘the technology is all there, some of us have been using it for years’ but here in-lies the rub ‘some of us’ have been on board with this change for many years, but some of us is not ‘all of us’. Some of us have developed processes for remote work that are tried and tested in our own routine but many have not. Mix these two groups together, in an instant, and the change curve is steep.
In those first few days, the emails were long and the content to consume online was burdensome, facilitating meetings was exhausting, and the complaints on connectivity and ‘which’ virtual conferencing tool to use abundant! Some of us have up-skilled on Webex, Zoom and Skype, just to name a few, all in a matter of weeks. As the dust settled on the ‘how’ and delivery of tasks slowly resumed, the observations that OD specialists have been touting for years begin to emerge in an online form.
Personality types that rely on visual cues such as body language, need to find new ways to read their audience online. Leaders who pride themselves on a coaching approach find they are micro-managing, specifying tasks in more detail over email than an informal conversation would hold.
Across the board, a new level of ‘trust’ has emerged. Trust that people are doing their best in a challenging circumstance, trust that staff will deliver the work when required, trust that staff are engaged (even when on mute and video is off!). Trust that people want to contribute and be part of the team.
It is a level of trust that is unprecedented with regards to remote work. For years, remote working mothers have been assumed to juggle a baby on their lap when working from home. Managers have ‘kept an eye’ on ‘online status’ throughout a work from home day. Peers ask with a grin ‘how was your work from home day?’ assuming that you hadn’t really been working with the same commitment you would in the office.
A quick survey of peers and how they are travelling at present unearths a conundrum: it’s hard working from home but not too many are keen to jump back into the grind. We all wanted to know how that future vision of remote working would go, and now we know, it’s not a utopian ideal where tasks seamlessly go online in a one size fits all approach - we’re people and we’re all different with unique work styles - like anything, there are benefits and challenges to adopting a new way of working.
Just how far the pendulum swings back to on-site primacy is yet to be seen, it will be up to each individual to take the learnings from their time in isolation, unique to them, and chart their own new way of working with their manager, team and organisation.
Perhaps you think your role is 50/50 remote and on site, perhaps yours is 80/20 or 40/60? What tasks are you excelling at? What time of day are you at your peak - and was this previously spent on the commute? How much ‘face time’ do you need to feel connected? What ‘truths’ have you learnt about yourself in working remotely - and how can these be leveraged to continue this new level of trust between you and your organisation?