What should HR keep after the COVID crisis?
Evolution is a messy process. Through random changes in DNA, new advantages emerge which are retained in a growing majority of the species.
Coronavirus has strewn chaos in its wake - but it has also accelerated mutations in our working habits, and some are here to stay. Here are three key areas where we’d like to see the trend continue once things go back to normal.
Meritocracy and disruption
Sometimes big companies throw their weight around. And that includes literally throwing a team on a plane to show up in person when something goes wrong, or to make a big impact on a new deal. It shouldn’t work, but sometimes it does.
During coronavirus, this leverage has disappeared. This levels the playing field a bit, allowing smaller players to punch above their weight, because the impression on a video call isn’t dependent on the offices or restaurant you invite them to.
But it also represents a difference in what’s expected of employees. Travel can be one of the most disruptive dislocations to your teams’ personal life. It separates families, it possibly puts off potential recruits who don’t want to take on that cost - and indeed, why should they?
A fairer playing field is a step in cultivating a more diverse workforce, with a greater variety of voices, and a better work/life balance. But this also applies seeing these voices on stage.
Without the issue of geography, we are seeing a wider range of voices at events. This is partly on the side of organisers, who can look farther afield for sources - but also for participants who might be able to make time for a quick presentation, without all the travel and inconvenience.
This is an opportunity for more or your team to build their career. But also to learn. While you may not have flown to Helsinki in December just to hear one speaker, you might now sign up for an hour or two remotely.
This is a huge new market for event organisers, and also enhances the quality versus squinting to make out ant-like figures on a far away conference stage.
More conscious management
We are social animals, and it’s always rewarding to feel part of a team. But it’s amazing how much of that rapport comes implicitly from the warmth of office interactions and team events. When team members struggle, this heartbeat of office life can be a soothing background that supports them. Or it can obscure and compensate for needs that are best resolved quickly.
The consequence of both these factors is that more conscious approaches to management are more important than ever. When most of your interactions are asynchronous or via little video chat windows, you have to really ask yourself if you are listening to each other properly.
Management with intent means reconsidering how needs are met. Issues that might have been picked up bubbling below the surface previously may now be entirely beyond your vision. You can only fix this by increasing your awareness as a manager. You can’t continue working on the assumption that everything is OK.
To be able to return to work, taking advantage of face-to-face communication with this extra sensitivity layered on top should make our workplace relationships more resilient than ever.
The good news is there is perhaps no greater benefit to your business long term than an increasingly conscious approach to management that keeps great people part of your team.
More on workplace wellbeing:
More than ever, our work/life balance has become de-compartmentalised from office/home. Responsibilities that were cut distinctly through geography have become part of the same places, and so their weight and priority has often clashed.
It is time to give up on the idea of 9-5 presenteeism. This requires a separation of the different facets of work: collaboration and focused independent work. The former may still be expected during normal working hours, and discouraged outside of them, but the fact remains that different people have different rhythms and strengths around the latter.
“Production” rather than management and collaboration is one of the primary sources of efficiency within a business. And by allowing it to breath and become “deep work”, uninterrupted by the schedule of meetings, provides a broader palette of possibilities that will suit a broader array of workers.
The time of one size fits all has passed. The incumbent privileges and bias toward the people and ways of working that previously ruled have been broken. This is just a start, but it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Sometimes drastic changes in context bring action to areas previously ruled by talk.
Adam Bird is CEO and co-founder of Cronofy.