We humans are an especially adaptable species. Some of us adapted to living above the Arctic Circle, for generations. Others spend their lives in jungle villages, or urban downtowns with far more concrete and asphalt than nature.
After a year of COVID, many of us have adapted to a new workplace normal, one that merges home and business in fresh ways. Some of the things to which we are adapting surely are beneficial.
Some leaders I with whom I have consulted this year, for example, dreaded what COVID would foist upon their workplaces. Would work-from-home practices demolish productivity and collective creativity? In many cases, I am hearing that the experience actually improved many aspects of work life and business success. Some executives who anticipated leaping back into five-days-a-week commutes as soon as possible, now say they prefer hybrid environments, with more options for employees to work remotely.
Many companies now are announcing plans for hybrid work environments, ones that never would have even been contemplated prior to COVID. Even Ford Motor Company told its 30,000 white-collar workers in March that the work-from-home experience borne out of COVID will remain an option for employees “indefinitely.” Office visits, the company said, will likely revolve around meetings and group projects.
If COVID diminishes demand for daily commutes to office buildings, and replaces that wasted time with productivity, that’s probably a plus.
Other burgeoning customs are not serving us. For example, some of my clients have mentioned that when they hold video conference calls, many employees have their video cameras turned off. To these clients I say, “Wait a minute. Tell me more about this.” Most of them respond that employees might have just stepped out of the shower, or haven’t gotten dressed for work. Whatever the reason, they didn’t want to appear on camera. And my clients, even though they lamented the habit, hesitated to make changes.
We need to be careful about what we are adapting to. I have found that during COVID, leaders have abdicated stepping up to employees and saying it’s not OK to turn off the camera. We want to see you. You are important. We want to connect.
What do people, including leaders, want in meetings? Presence and participation. If you are going to be there, be there.
As our work lives continue to change, leaders must pay close attention to the shifts. If they benefit workplace culture, great. Keep them. But developments borne out of COVID that undermine team-building have no place in our collective office future. Identifying them and jettisoning them now, before they metastasize into widespread and hard-to-break habits, is critical.