Nick Gold, Managing Director of Speakers Corner
Both in society and in business, the early days of the pandemic, we witnessed at first-hand` how people were pulling together, supporting each and understanding that we were all in this terrible situation together. As time has gone on, this comradeship has been challenged, undermined and the uncertainty we feel has caused tensions which has tested this kinship. But there is an underlying feeling that what the human race has been through will bring us closer together during a formidable test of our resilience.
However, when we peer under the surface and start going into the detail, this veneer of everyone being in it together starts becoming challenged. Whether it be from a demographic or location perspective, we have all had different experiences during the pandemic and especially the lockdown. This is even more stark when focussing solely from a business perspective.
Firstly, as society has embraced working from home and all the benefits it has brought for people, we need to understand that this ‘Working from Home’ has meant different things for different people during lockdown.
The effects from suddenly moving from a busy office to working in isolation and crashing into to an embryonic virtual world where communication is only through a screen or a phone, will only become clear over time. Furthermore, for those of us with children; or those who flat share with people we never thought we would be spending as much time with; or for those of us without any outside space in their property, the effects of lockdown, of working from home and the absence of the office environment is something where the impact will be noticeably different for different people and will only present over time.
Secondly and the most stark reality of this business period is that the workforce have been split in two between those who have continued to work, to ensure the initial survival and then the grasping of opportunities for their business and those who have been furloughed. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has had many positive attributes but the starkness of the working/not working criteria around furloughing has left a workforce divided.
And now, we are at the next phase of the pandemic, where businesses are looking forward and understanding that the debate between remote working and office working should never have been a polarizing choice. It is actually an opportunity for the individuals needs and personality to be allowed the flexibility to ensure they are working at their best for both themselves and the business. Dependent on each individual’s personality will impact their need to be in office environment with other people or at home with the benefits that brings.
This hybrid model of workforce location means that the first communal gathering of the team on return to the office is absolutely critical to the success of the business when looking forward. It gives a chance for the business to demonstrate to the team the value of the office space which they left behind in a hurry many months ago as they cleared their desks. It reminds them that meeting face to face and having time to chat ‘around the water cooler’ is a critical element to the culture and thought processes of the business. It is a time to remind everyone what the flexibility of this new hybrid way of working can bring the power of solitary focus with collective thought and ideas.
The first meeting of the team back in the office is also a chance for the leaders to bring everyone back together and to be open about the schism and splits of experiences that people have had (and will continue to have). It is important to see this as a diverse experience of bringing the team together to push the business forward as opposed to being left with unspoken feelings about how or what people have done or achieved during lockdown.
As we move to the next phase, leaders need to understand that assumptions about individuals’ experiences and feelings need to be managed through a culture of openness and transparency. Practices that occurred pre-pandemic cannot just be slipped easily back into but should be challenged and the purpose understood. The first meeting back, that first interaction between the team and especially the leader and their team is a chance to embrace the experiences everyone has had, acknowledge the differences, celebrate the joy of being together and the opportunities it brings and start looking forward together as the future runs toward us.