Normal sucked, why would you want to go back there?!

As lockdown starts to ease in the UK, everyone’s talking about getting back to normal. But let’s be honest, normal wasn’t great. In fact, for most people, it was really, really bad. Only 42% of people were happy at work before lockdown, so let’s not rush to get back to a situation where more than half of people were miserable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, and this gives us a real opportunity to reflect on how we want to do business in the future. Here are a few things that we’ve learned from life in lockdown.

You can actually do flexible working

Prior to lockdown, one in three flexible working requests were being refused, with many businesses saying it simply wasn’t possible to implement. Of course, lockdown has proved that it is possible. It always was, it was just difficult. But necessity is the mother of invention, and suddenly, when firms had to, they figured it out.

And guess what? It’s working! Now obviously there’s a lot about working in lockdown that is an absolute bloody nightmare, but being able to work remotely and be flexible with working hours is opening up whole new worlds for many. Once pressing issues like childcare and social isolation are dealt with, the possibilities will be endless.

Parents will get to see their kids. (OK, some of us are seeing far too much of our kids right now, but, like I said, once childcare’s sorted out…) Being available for school/nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, being on-hand when Calpol needs administering (because nursery staff aren’t allowed to do it for you) and getting to spend quality time with children in the mornings and evenings is a big challenge for a lot of parents. Let’s be honest, usually these things are left to the woman in a heterosexual couple to sort out. If you can work remotely and flexibly, suddenly it’s not an issue and no one needs to be held back in their role because they have a family.

Workplaces are suddenly much more accessible! If you’re allowing people to work from home then you don’t need to feel quite so bad about the fact that your building only has one disabled toilet and it’s upstairs. (Although you should still feel bad about that, and sort it out.) Events and meetings taking place online has allowed huge numbers of people who have previously been excluded because of access issues to join the conversation. For people with chronic pain, having the option to choose to work from home when they have a bad day means they take fewer sick days and aren’t under as much unnecessary stress, feeling like they’re letting their team down or looking uncommitted. Flexible hours also means no one has to worry about fitting in vital medical appointments.

The big caveat to this is that you do need to make sure you have the technology and equipment in place to make remote working fully accessible to everyone. You also need to ensure that everyone has the space they need to work. Some of us have been crammed into tiny corners of our bedrooms and it’s no fun – it’s also really bad for your posture, can lead to all sorts of physical issues, and can limit your productivity. So you may need to invest in coworking memberships or other workspace options for your team to make use of if they want – but hey, it’s still cheaper than running an office of your own, and gives your team opportunities to network, access knowledge and resources and boost their mental health. So wins all round.

Remote working also has huge environmental benefits – less commuting, for the win! People no longer have to live packed in to dense urban areas when they can telecommute, which means less air pollution, and better spread of resources around the country. No more tiny one-bedroom flats in one part of the country for the cost of a mansion in a different area. People can live closer to loved ones, improving everyone’s mental health. The more you look at it, this sounds like a better and better idea!

We need to talk about meetings

I mean, they’re just awful, aren’t they? I know I’m not alone in feeling like that, because in a Harvard Business Review survey 71% of senior managers said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. They’re also a platform for a very specific type of person – the type of person that’s happy to hold court, interrupt others and dominate the room. Women, BAME staff and other members of the team who are likely to feel generally less confident because the system doesn’t include them as much as others are likely to be quieter and get less air time. One study found that, in mixed-gender conversations, 96% of interruptions will come from men – and men are seven times more likely to interrupt a woman than another man.

So in a meeting, you’re only ever hearing from one type of person. We’ve all been to meetings where you in fact only hear from one person. They’re a nonsense. They’re a stage for certain people to perform – and for 69% of people to ignore them and sneakily check their email. But lockdown has shown us that we don’t need them – or at least that we can cope with far fewer. All the “let’s just jump in a meeting room” nonsense is gone when staff are all in different places. Gathering people together in disparate locations somehow seems to give people a greater sense of how they’re imposing on people’s time, and take more responsibility for making sure that time isn’t wasted. Online meetings are tiring, so we try to schedule fewer and keep them shorter, meaning we’re more likely to stay on topic and follow an agenda. Good news since before all this only 37% of meetings were following an agenda – probably why most of them were such a waste of time.

Lockdown has also forced us to reevaluate the very nature of how we communicate and make decisions. Rather than just moving all meetings online, with people working different hours and juggling multiple responsibilities, constantly bringing everyone together just hasn’t been an option. Necessity being the mother and all that…

Organisations have been utilising brainstorming software, making better use of digital communications channels, getting involved with collaboration apps and using shared documents. All of these allow people who might like to think about a topic for a while before contributing, or take some time to mull over other people’s thoughts after they’ve been shared have an equal level of participation to the person who likes to come up with ideas on the spot. They also give time and space for ideas to develop as teams build on them together, and for information to be shared and digested effectively.

Leadership styles

As we’ve discussed previously, what it means to be a leader is changing. Life in lockdown has thrown a harsh light on some of the qualities that seem to be common in leaders that might not actually be serving the organisation. A desire for power and control is not the best reason to choose a leadership path, but there’s no doubt that that’s one of the big appeals for many people. However, bombastic, even bullying, approaches and micro-managing fades away when you can’t physically stand over your subordinates.

Instead, in this new world, leaders need to have greater trust in their teams. They need to give them autonomy to deliver on the tasks required of them in whatever time they can make available before the deadline. Their role is – at is always has been – to provide support and guidance when it’s needed. And then to back the hell off.

During times of uncertainty and stress, leaders who can nurture their teams, support their wellbeing and boost morale will be the ones whose organisations are successful. Going back to those 58% of people we mentioned before who were unhappy at work, how many of them will feel happier if they’re shown more trust, more positivity and more human connection? 80% of workers say being appreciated is key to their happiness at work, so I reckon quite a few.

And hey, it goes both ways – 58% of people would trust a stranger more than their boss. If you don’t demonstrate trust in your teams, how can they ever trust you? If you’re not being transparent, genuine and open, you can’t expect loyalty and dedication from your staff, and if you don’t think that’s going to limit the volume and quality of their output then you are absolutely kidding yourself.

If you ask around within your organisation, how many other things do you think you’ll discover that people want to change? Do yourself a favour: try it and find out. There is no limit to the systems and processes that you can reimagine – nothing has to be done this way just because it always has been. How much happier, more productive and successful would your teams be if you changed things up?

So as we emerge out of lockdown, let’s not rush to get things back to how they were. We’ve got a real chance now to make things better – don’t let that slip away.

Want to start reimagining your world of work? Get in touch.