Those of us who can have now been working from home for close to a month so it’s time to assess, how well have you adapted? Organisations with “Cultural Plasticity” can adapt easily to change. These organisations are doing better than others in holding connection and engaging their employees.
We always talk about Culture as the “way we do things around here”. In the context of working from home the “around here” has lost some meaning. In the spirit of Cultural Plasticity, we’ve now adopted another definition, just as simple, but more relevant for these times. “How we do things when no one’s watching”.
We’ve all had to make changes, but those organisations with a strong culture have fared better than others. And those organisations who’ve been able to practice Cultural Plasticity and mould their culture to suit our new working environments, have found a new rhythm. They’ve been able to engage their employees, achieving a new normal. Working from home has lots of advantages that we’re all experiencing. There are also challenges and a few things that we may have lost.
What have we lost?
We’ve lost those spontaneous communications that build connection. We are missing the jokes, and hearing others’ conversations and the synchronicity that can sometimes bring. You can’t interject into a conversation with some critical bit of information that might be relevant. Most of all it’s the office humour I miss.
The natural flow of group conversations has been disrupted. We’ve all been a part of a Zoom call where everyone starts talking at once. Then, politely everyone stops for a second or two of awkward silence. Then everyone starts talking at once again. It’s like we have lost the cues that usually govern the conversation flow.
We’re much less sensitive to each other’s moods. We can all turn on the charm for a half-hour conference call. This makes it much harder for your colleagues to tell if you’re feeling a bit down today and need some cheering up.
How do we make up for this?
Give yourself and your team some free form time on your weekly check-ins. Yes, you need an agenda, and you don’t always have time to chat, but making time for this regularly goes some way to adding back some of that spontaneous conversation.
Be a little directive in Zoom meetings asking for each person’s input if you’re getting the “everyone talking at once” issue. Don’t lose your democratic culture by giving in to the loudest voice, make sure everyone gets a turn by inviting people into the conversation.
Make a point of checking in on your team at least weekly, just to see how they’re doing. Are they coping? Do they have everything they need? Is there anything you can do to make their workday any easier?
Many organisations have taken their employees’ mental well-being much more seriously providing access to courses on mindfulness, breathing, and other stress-busting well-being offers.
We have different distractions at home. We’re now working with partners, dogs, cats, children, or housemates. We’ve had to settle in with a new bunch of co-workers all with their patterns and rhythms. I know I’ve resorted to working from my bedroom when I had a call where I didn’t want any background conversations to be heard.
Varying internet speeds make for some interesting effects in some meetings. With more physical locations where internet issues can take place, they feel much more regular.
Differing technical capability and a large array of meeting tools, also means there are plenty of meetings spent telling people to take themselves off mute. You also end up providing instructions on how to share a document, or how to switch to the gallery view, instead of focusing on the topic at hand.
These challenges are different and specific to each individual’s circumstances. The best you can do with these is to offer a friendly ear and be tolerant of everyone’s circumstances.
Once we do start heading back to the office, will we? I mean full-time? There’s an opportunity to be kinder to the earth, and commute less, committing to at least a couple of days a week working remotely. Maybe sorting a schedule of having some office days, and the rest as remote days will become the new normal.
This leads to an opportunity to further democratise work. Judging employees’ contributions based on hours at the desk could finally become a thing of the past. This opens up more opportunities for people who need more flexible working arrangements or the less mobile. We could finally see people with a disability put into a more competitive position to win roles.
With fewer hours in the office we could consider reducing costs for small businesses by sharing office space. Not like in a we-work site, but smaller partnerships between one or two small businesses. There are lots of possibilities.
Working from home has been a blessing for some and more challenging for others. Organisations with a strong Culture have been able to hold their culture in these challenging times, adapting it where needed. This has lead us to coin the term Cultural Plasticity. These organisations have managed to keep their employees engaged, and productive. The last month or so has taught us many lessons, some of which we should take into the future to create a better, new normal.