If we look at the way the workplace has evolved over the years, one of the biggest catalysts for change happened at the end of World War II. After serving abroad, our troops brought back with them a sense of discipline, structure and teamwork: from their uniforms to a work ethic honed through the necessity of working collaboratively and being part of a larger organization. This regimented approach to day-to-day life, in turn, impacted workplaces, dress, culture and lexicon: office environments became very structured and many adapted military vocabularies. Phrases like onboarding, strategy, tactics and operations became commonplace in business.
More than 75 years later, we’re dealing with the most traumatic global event since the end of WWII and not surprisingly, the pandemic has become a catalyst for change. A year ago, many organizations couldn’t fathom their staff working remotely permanently, yet when pressed into a near-impossible situation, just about every organization found a way to enable their workforce to be productive remotely.
Looking ahead to 2022
Now that we’re out of crisis mode and we’ve all adapted to this new normal, we can reflect on the many changes the pandemic has brought. While some of the changes were initially difficult to implement, many have been worthwhile, and we should look to embrace them for the long term. By that, I mean applying lessons learned to make working remotely easier and more dynamic, while still feeling connected and part of a team. Below are some of the lessons we have found most useful.
Do you need to change your work “uniform”?
When the pandemic first hit, everyone was scrambling to make remote working operational, maneuvering on the fly to establish and implement a plan of attack to ensure business continuity and the safety and well-being of staff. The priority was to keep people working in a functional capacity, and accordingly, some standards fell by the wayside. Overnight many people changed their attire from business casual and suits to comfortable clothes. With the need to accommodate dual roles of work and parenting, the established workplace dress standards were not always practical. In addition, questionable video quality and the limited portrait view from laptop cameras meant that there was often no compelling reason to dress up for work.
Now that we’ve collectively adjusted to “the new normal,” perhaps it’s time to revisit the way we show up to work in our new, modern workspaces. For many, the daily ritual of getting ready for work has been replaced with “less is more” practicality. The lengthy commutes of the past have been traded for those that are ten steps or less from bedroom to kitchen to workspace. While the flexibility of working from home and the time gained from the lack of commute has been appreciated, some people have found that they miss a clear physical delineation between work and home.
As an example, dressing up for the day can be a valuable exercise in getting into the business mindset and retaining a sense of normality. Consider wearing that blazer even if you don’t have any video calls planned; or perhaps don a pair of shoes without plans to go outside. Reinforcing the workspace mentality with the regimen you keep and clothes you wear can help you be more productive and more efficient, and better balance your work-life commitments even when your worlds are colliding.
Sharing your space
Just like troops adjusting to life in close proximity with their units, so too families have adapted to new and challenging dynamics within the home. Virtual learning is happening alongside conference calls at the dining room table, and pets or children making guest appearances on video calls is a common occurrence. And while this is humanizing and oftentimes refreshing, it’s important to recognize the value of separating your work area from your living area as another way to increase efficiency and productivity within the modern workspace.
Having a separate, dedicated area – a spare bedroom, a repurposed basement area or even a reclaimed closet – provides structure and focus and can help promote a healthy work-life balance. Being able to “shut the door” on your workday (whether metaphorical or literal) is key to enduring this unique time. It also sends a signal to your new colleagues – in this case, your children, spouse or pets – that there’s a time for work and a time to play. Being more mindful of your work environment and disciplined about your work-life balance can help position you for success.
Out with the old… in with the new
Switching to remote working has required a new approach to managing our day-to-day activities. Thanks to portable devices such as laptops and the power of the internet, many employees were able to adapt almost seamlessly to working remotely full-time. But how many of us realized very early on in the pandemic that our home Wi-Fi bandwidth was grossly inadequate for the demands of full-time use from multiple family members? Or started noticing the aches and pains of working from a non-ergonomic chair and desk?
Having the right tools for the job at hand is key to continued, sustained success for yourself and your team. When the working environment has evolved, the equipment should also reflect and support the new working reality. For example, working in-office pre-pandemic, for many, didn’t require frequent video calls, and therefore little thought was given to laptop camera quality and bandwidth. Now that we’re attending more video calls than not, having a low-quality, pixelated call is suddenly untenable.
Whether it’s increasing internet bandwidth, upgrading tools or revamping at-home work configurations, organizations are well-served to support their remote teams. Many organizations have provided mental health services, coaching and advice on how to manage the stress of integrating work and home life. Some organizations have given their employees stipends for office furniture. Others have redistributed their office furniture and spare monitors to people working at home. Having the right tools for the job empowers the workforce by making it easier and more efficient to get the job done.
Rallying the troops
We tend to focus on output from the workforce, even more so with remote working. And while it’s always good business practice to fine-tune processes, realize efficiencies and provide greater results, it’s also important to stay connected and support each other.
When you join a company, you’re joining a team, a social organism, a family unit. We are social animals who inherently want to be part of something where we feel valued and to which we can contribute. Work is such a large and important part of our lives. Going for a coffee, socializing with colleagues or out for lunch; these activities were an important part of our daily ritual. That social connectedness fosters team spirit and company culture, so how do we rally the troops and replicate that in the modern remote workspace?
When you walk into the office, you’re surrounded by the company culture and brand: corporate colours, prominent logos, and maybe even some photos from past events. But with everyone working remotely, we lack daily brand visibility, which, in turn, impacts an individual’s connection with the brand and culture. Bringing elements of the company brand into your home workspace can help foster that sense of community and comradery, whether through Microsoft Teams backgrounds with the company logo or branded coffee mugs. It’s not just about flying the company flag, it’s about reinforcing that connection to your team and your organization. Having the brand visible and part of your workspace helps to strengthen that connection.
As we move to the post-pandemic world, much has been written about the new normal. While opinions vary, the consensus is that the Modern Workspace and the experience of work have dramatically changed.
If you would like to talk more about how you can better prepare yourself or your organization for the new world of work, please reach out at any time. I would love to discuss it with you.