Reading the Press and the predictions about economic progress, we are seduced by exciting figures of enormous growth, but we need to be a little careful about seeing the context of the comparators. What will be wonderful is the possibility of learning to apply all the good things we have discovered during lockdown, as there are many pros and cons to remote working.
However, an important point was mentioned to me the other day by one of my sons who said ‘of course, remote working during lockdown is not remote working….’. On seeking clarification, he pointed out that, as our team had worked remotely probably 50-60% of the time for the last 20 years, and he had seen it in action from being a small child, the current state of remote working through a pandemic is very different from normal remote working, in a number of aspects and not just psychological. He mentioned that he had seen remote working in action over 20 years and at its best.
It is true that the context of remote working is important. Many organisations had it forced on them at speed; some have handled the transition well and others less so. To make it work well, account has to be taken of the circumstances of each individual. It would be a shame to forego the advantages of working remotely because of an unsupported shift to the new ways of working, where an organisation has just not been able to make the relevant adaptations and flexible methodologies necessary to accompany flexible working at its best.
Many individuals found themselves forced into a new way of working in an unprepared way and situated at home in cramped environments at the worst possible time of their life. A change that takes place with circumstances forcing the shift is very different from a new chosen way of operating. It is a pity, therefore, to follow my son’s point, that we might be judging new methodologies by the very worst scenarios of remote working. If we can use our imagination to develop more flexible and hybrid contracts, such as home space being used as individuals wish it to be used, it will enable those who – in psychometric terms – show that they thrive better at home, to now do so, and those who thrive better in the workplace to spend the bulk of their working hours in their workplace environment. We are asking our workforces to be flexible and agile, but employers, too, will need to be flexible and agile in responding to employee needs as their age and family profile changes.
Many of our clients over the years have pooh-poohed the idea of remote working and it has tended to have gone in the ‘too difficult’ pile. The one fantastic outcome of the pandemic is that some individuals have worked out that remote working suits them better, and we are busy designing and consulting with employers and employees at client organisations about the perfect balance for both individuals and for the workplace. There is a whole new vista of an extra option that is now available, knowing that we can use Zoom, Teams and other platforms very successfully.
We, too, have expanded our already existing virtual capability, running workshops with breakout rooms and interactions that enable the trainer to embed learning. Of course, there are subliminals that do get lost to some extent through virtual platforms but, with practice, we can get better. For that reason, I attach the two short films that we produced for our clients about looking good on screen and how to best use the virtual platforms. They are only five minutes long and I still spend much of my time seeing the corner of somebody’s face and often seeing the chaos that an individual is desperately trying to hide behind their shoulder. Still more work can be done on the physical and, of course, the psychological aspects of virtual platforms.
The take-up for communication skills training is increasing and there is optimism both from HR departments and from where we sit, as we see client companies recruiting. Many think this is an optimal time to recruit as there will be so many people on the market. Organisations are always looking for the best and recruitment cannot be done in a complacent way - it will be important to find out who is on the market and why, and to analyse their competencies carefully through detailed selection processes. This is a time to hone recruitment and selection processes, rather than regard the glut of people who are available on the market as facilitator for top quality recruitment.
Many client organisations are also revising their contracts and employees are not slow to come forward about the increased costs of tea and biscuits, heating and toilet rolls. The expression ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ might start becoming more prevalent in terms of incentivising employees to take up the possibility of more home working than pre pandemic, bearing in mind that non-pandemic remote working is very different from pandemic remote working.
This is an opportunity for HR to really show its worth, both from a technical point of view but also from a psychological point of view, and to think through carefully the consequences of the various aspects of an HR strategy, some of which I have mentioned above.
This is the moment for organisations to think about output rather than presenteeism, in order to get the best out of the situations we now find ourselves in. Managing remotely requires, on the whole, more than having everyone in sight.
Life will never be the same – our risk assessments need to be more robust from every angle, and we need to take heed of the psychological contract, not just the employment contract. Life could be even better, if we give it the attention it deserves, however hard the thinking might be.