2022 – The New And Old Dynamics Colliding
We are in a standoff, the conditioned ‘office is best’ versus the more modern approach of work is not location specific and you don’t need to physically together to work and collaborate.
The easiest way to explain the office versus hybrid (and remote) is policing and boundaries and not being able to learn newer ways of working and making it work against your own biases (particularly those with proximity bias).
The office had clear boundaries – workspaces, communal areas, and “meeting zones”.
Most knew when you were having private vs semi-private vs public conversations. You had a number of variables but most knew what these were:
- At your desk
- In an open booth
- In a call booth
- In a breakout space
- In a conference room
- Outside of the office
- Headphones vs no headphones. Headsets vs no headsets. Background vs no background
Those who didn’t were often policed by colleagues (or then HR).
The Office Environment
The office was noisy or quiet, it didn’t have a perfect balance and often the most political debates were about how to move teams away from Sales and Marketing departments.
The decisions we made on the fly were complicated and required constant scanning in full offices, meeting zones free or full, what were the requirements was it a one-to-one, a breakout group, or a follow-up to the management meeting (where the best conversation leads to action), a team stand up, a weekly department meeting
The surfacing of this is the Product and Engineering area or this is Marketing’s area – it made it easy for some, hard for others, it was like entering the lion’s den for some and others easily entered and exited unscathed. This happens in every business and it is down to work status, title status and knowing how to operate in work/social and work/work situations.
Not to mention, the always bubbling beneath the surface, the air con wars, the ongoing conflicts of who ate my avocado, this is your seat (despite disliking those around you) and the constant social dynamics of where you sit and who you have to sit with or when you decided you had to work from home to get your work done.
These cultural moments and company culture movements create subcultures, all combining into how colleagues consider what a toxic workplace is for them and if this is a workplace you want to work at for the mid to long term.
The New Considerations:
- Where are people working from: Work — Home — Third space. What type of work are they doing there?
- Working in third space pros vs cons (the implications of having conversations that might include spending, budgets and company finances, firing and then attempting to interview in a coffee shop as its easier to navigate than the office)
- How are we going to manage and balance the requirements of a meeting in IRL aka In person vs URL (virtual) and what if its split down the middle, half in the office meeting room and then others outside it
- Habits die hard (habitual and routine) – it takes 88 days for complex habits to be forged and now in-frequency leads to fewer habits, leading to less footfall in the office.
- It is important to note bad practices and bad habits are easily picked back up, with poor meeting etiquette being the easiest. Examples are those with headphones versus those without. Those in the room (physically) versus those who dialled in
The questions you should now answer to make the environments work:
- Did you change the office?
- Did you re-onboard your teams to the office?
Without onboarding new colleagues and existing colleagues, how will you create a great and equal environment?
- Did you make the office less daunting or less chaotic?
How have you adapted the office to pre-2020 feedback and more recent actionable feedback around the office set-up?
- Did you make the office more appealing?
- Did you introduce neighbours where colleagues would interact and collaborate and know it was safe to do so?
How did you challenge the status quo and improve connection when many professionally unfollowed each other and unfollowed leaders.
- Did you reshuffle what the office meant and how you removed the chaos?
Without change, you will be forcing employees back into a broken system
- Did you improve the software and tech to improve when working hybrid?
Force fitting zoom to every use case is hindering businesses.
- Did you attempt to build less reliance on meeting and real time decision making?
Have you looked at embracing async work and more in depth deliberate discussion in writing, audio and short form video?
- Did you interview and continue to gain feedback from the teams?
Without feedback and discussing what feedback you received and the actions you take is removing all the hard work and hard decisions you made
- Have you renamed working from home to – working from workplace home?
The bias and conditioning can be removed with reframing.
- Have you created a decision document?
Helping the whole company understand how and why decisions were made?
There is an art and a science to the chaos of the office, many struggles to grasp the art and don’t understand its importance (many just do not understand PQ and are never taught office political intelligence). The chaos was deciding what’s important and what’s not and where to be and how to act as a constant test and challenge.
The hybrid office and working style is something so many did not make a plan for, they didn’t create a deliberate working shift to improve the quality of work and consider how to improve company culture and company performance.
How you and your fellow business leaders react now is going to set the tone for your next 12-24 months.
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