"Is this the real life, is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality"
Freddie Mercury seems to have summed up the current global situation nicely. It also sprung to mind whilst out for a (rare) morning run this week. Traffic was non-existent, and the only other person around was a dog walker. Pictures of cities around the world on the news paint a similar picture – deserted shopping centres, eerily quiet tourist spots and empty trains and buses.
On one hand, it seems rather post-apocalyptic, but whilst in one of the various Coronavirus-related management meetings we are now routinely holding, it also struck me that this might be a vision of the future. Granted it has been hastened along due to the rapidity with which Coronavirus has spread and the global reaction to it, but could this be the new reality for work, and to an extent, society?
Flexible working, remote access to our workplace systems and video/streamed calls have all been around for some time, but adoption is still not universal. The traditional "9-5" way of working has long been seen as antiquated by those at a more junior level at least, but in some quarters, modernising practices has proven difficult. Cost, concerns about productivity and technology have all been impediments. Whilst "Presenteeism" is becoming frowned upon, and being physically present in a building is no guarantee of productivity or success, it has proven difficult to shake old habits. However, a significant number of businesses are now being forced to adopt these practices.
Reducing time spent commuting, being able to catch up with family and do more for our physical and mental health are all clear benefits. Given that we spend a disproportionate amount of time glued to screens, whether they be computers, mobile devices or consoles, working remotely may actually result in more time being freed up to do other things (assuming of course that we aren't in "lock down").
Relationships are still vital in business, but increasingly, in today's digital marketplace, trust is something which has to be earned remotely. The need to physically meet has reduced. Perhaps this could be the catalyst for change.
There are clearly challenges, not least because this has been forced on many businesses abruptly, without chance to fully prepare and assess best practice. In the current economic uncertainty, embarking on new projects or organisational change is clearly a risk, but it may bring longer-term benefits.
The environmental impact will be significant, with huge reductions in our respective carbon footprints, something which Greta Thunberg could only have dreamed of. We will also have to consider new and inventive ways of propelling ourselves into the marketplace, when lunches, drinks and seminars are not possible. Many of us already use podcasts, webinars and virtual meetings, and if it drives innovation in terms of content, this has to be a good thing. What makes your podcast more interesting than listening to "That Peter Crouch Podcast" for example?
Ironically, given the above, one thing that seems to get overlooked in all of the excitement at home working is the realisation that isolation is not good for us. We are ultimately a tribe, and being outside that community group (large or small) for significant periods of time is likely to have detrimental effects on our mental well-being. Think about Christmas – once the initial excitement is done, the feasting and drinking has reached its peak and the presents are gathering dust, we're all ready to get back to work. That all happens in the space of 2-3 weeks. Imagine extrapolating that feeling over 1-2 months...
It is vital that whilst we all work remotely or self-isolate as necessary, that we continue to keep in touch, whether it be via emails, calls or shouting over the fence to neighbours.
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