What if?


What if?

We hear daily from those writing about the pandemic that we are entering a “new normal.” This new life means that the typical business style of coming to an office, interacting with your colleagues in person, having in person meetings, both formal and informal, is permanently changing. The ‘new normal’ is working from home, interacting through Microsoft meetings or Zoom, and meeting customers over the phone or through video calls. Webinars are the way information sharing and training will be held.

But what if they are wrong?

The people writing about this new normal are primarily youngsters from Silicon valley. They have grown up with smart phones and laptops. The media interviews them and naturally falls on board. But is it possible that they may be overstating the case?

A couple of decades ago, during the heyday of ‘flexitime’, a major bank decided to close a number of its offices and require its staff to work from home. Think of the savings in time, rent, and the like. Productivity plummeted and within five years, the plan was scrapped and it was back to the office for the staff.

We are by nature social animals. We feed off interaction with others. Whether it is work related or simply gossip, we thrive in settings where we can talk, see each other, and feed off the input of others.

You hear about the ‘water cooler effect.’ Three of the staff are standing around the water cooler, or in the kitchen getting coffee, and they are discussing one project or another. Just random thoughts about how things are going. One of them gets an idea. It may be unrelated to the project under discussion but it had its birth in that moment when discussion was free flowing. Maybe the idea was useless, or maybe it was the beginning of Amazon or Google.

Training has a similar issue. A good trainer doesn’t stick rigidly to a series of facts, but reacts to his or her class and adjusts on the fly. They can see when their students are beginning to doze off or are full of the spark that makes the session worthwhile. I know when I talk to groups, I try to walk around the room and interact with those present. I can tell if I’m getting my point across or just following a script. You simply can’t do that on Zoom.

Certainly if I’m trying to convince someone of the quality of my product or service, there is a much bigger chance of success if I’m in front of them than behind a phone or camera.

I’m no expert, but it makes sense to have your staff where they can work as a team, bounce ideas off each other, and share in each other’s successes, and failures.  We may have a few hiccups along the way, but I predict that our work space won’t look a lot different a year from now as it did a year ago.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Good insights. I also feel like there is this undue pressure on management to quickly adopt to these “new normal” ideas of teleworking or tremendously flexible work days when the hidden agenda may be that an employee (or employees) don’t want to come to the office at all, without thinking about how they are going to make sure THEY stay engaged and demonstratively productive. Don’t get me wrong, taking care of vulnerable loved ones, school age children, etc. are conditions we have to proactively manage during the pandemic and managers have to find ways to positively keep valuable employees from becoming overly stressed or ineffective during a short term detour of the norm. It is funny how we as managers seem to have to flip a switch and come up with the perfect solution when, as you note, we are likely to be back much closer to where we started when we get a year past this detour.

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