We have each found our own coping mechanisms for getting through the darkest of winters – one that has stretched even the most resilient of individuals and has challenged our function in ways that could not have been imagined previously.
My personal coping mechanism was exercise, and more specifically indoor cycling. During December I found myself spending many hours facing a wall, wearing some very questionable clothing, as part of a virtual challenge to cycle from London to Lapland in order to raise money for charity. This had the potential to be a tiresome, boring activity simply to be endured, however it wasn’t, and the reason for this was it being completed as part of a team. Colleagues from across our organisation joined forces and competed to be the first to complete the 2,200km.
Activities of this kind are not unique, and of course took place physically prior to the necessity of working from home, and this makes me reflect on how this time was different. In our pre-2020 world I would almost certainly have entered this event, but I would have joined a team from the limited portion of the company population I regularly interacted with. In the new world and via the power of social media I ended up in a team with colleagues I had never met, in offices I had never visited.
Over the few weeks of that competition this little group became my best friends at work, chatting about work topics, family topics and inevitably painful knees. The ‘water cooler’ conversation of old had moved into an online space allowing a real sense of belonging, and it had improved upon historic versions by crossing locations and organisational levels easily, the organisational structure (at least the informal one) has been rewritten by technology.
This rewriting of organisational structure has occurred in other ways, too. Conversations with the CEO have been a staple of organisation life for as long as I have been in HR.
My earliest recollections were retail store visits (which very often smelled of fresh paint), or meals for a limited number of people where only the ones on the ‘right’ table got any useful input. Our ‘Ask the CEO’ session each month now has thousands of participants, from all around the globe, where any individual can raise a question and those with enough ‘likes’ are answered – however tough they may be.
Even the open-door policy of old has had a complete makeover. Senior leaders may have always had one, but unless you were on the right floor, of the right building, on the right day, it was very difficult to walk through it. Now a green tick in Microsoft Teams indicates a person is available and at the touch of a button, anyone can have a conversation with whoever they like. It is incredibly democratising and engaging for an organisation to have such openness.
As we embrace summer’s return to work and we become excited at the physical connections we can once again have with our colleagues, I encourage us all to pause and make sure we don’t throw away some new-found benefits. Connecting every bit of an organisation together has been a big win for opening the culture and we will certainly be investing in technology to ensure we maximise
this social revolution.
I look forward to integrating this openness into our culture as we re-enter the workplace, although next time I join a charity bike ride with my colleagues I look forward to seeing a road rather than a wall.
Andrew Stephenson is chief people officer of Equiniti
This piece appears in full in the March/April 2021 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.