The relaxation of lockdown rules has seen around half of our 30 strong team return to our office in Newark. A small handful are working part of the week from the office and part at home, and around 40% continue to work from their homes, though this number is slowly falling as circumstances and safety permits.
It was interesting that in the early weeks of lockdown (when our business was 90% home based), nearly all the team were enjoying the change. Even those that were not looking forward to it, spoke of the flexibility benefits. Pleasingly, technology worked ahead of expectations, team communications were high in frequency, and productivity remained at strong levels. Outside of our business, the media reported a majority consensus declaring that working from home would become the new normal, and that the days of the office commute were over for many.
However, over the longer term, managing and working at a distance will raise challenges of communication, trust, and of mental and physical health. These aspects of life are not significantly stress tested in the short term. Those declaring home working as the ‘new normal’ after only a few months are likely a tad premature. Moreover, I am a little sceptical about those companies that say ‘hey, turns out that we are highly functional by not having an office’. Of course, it is true that for some companies, and some individuals working from home will provide significant benefits long into the future, and those benefits must be considered as they can improve happiness and therefore productivity. However, it is also important to remember that although we can be functional and get things done remotely, it is very hard to develop plans and drive creative thinking working at arm’s length. Humans are innately social creatures, they spark energy from each other, resulting in ideas that can more effectively gather momentum. In good teams, this helps to drive innovation which is in turn crucial to continual improvement and growth.
In addition, building trust and developing relationships requires significantly more time and effort when you are trying to do it virtually. From experience, working this way is easier with long standing clients and colleagues, though over time, maintaining the strength of that relationship will be harder from a distance. Take long-distance relationships as an example, there are some that flourish, but in the main there are more negatives than positives. In other words, without some physical interaction, over time, increased isolation weakens trust and commitment. Certainly, for new clients and new colleagues, developing and building your core values and understanding real needs is so much more of a challenge.
So whilst some may have declared an early victory for the new working world, I am less certain it will all stick. No doubt there will be change; enabling teams to have the flexibility to work from home, though this should be balanced with actual face-to-face interaction to allow the best of both worlds. Maintaining the efficiencies created through engaging both our clients and team through technology over the years ahead is going to be valuable, however, as with everything in life, balance and compromise will remain key ingredients to driving the best outcomes for all.
What do you think?… With many of our clients having virtual meetings from their computers or tablets, we would be interested to know whether this “new normal” suits your lifestyle better or whether you are more excited to have our regular face to face meetings back. Click the link below to let us know!