Let me start by setting my stall out on this idea of ‘The New Normal’ – I am not a fan. For me, in the context of work, it says the future that we are about to step into must fit a new set of rules that define ‘normal’ at a group level – missing the real opportunity to understand that what is defined as normal may actually not apply to most of the population and that we are each different.
And of all that has gone on across the past year (happy wfh anniversary!) being forced to do things differently and explore what works and doesn’t work for you at an individual level has been the gift that has kept on giving.
There are of course pros and cons to the way that we have worked over the past year. The lack of social connection, blurred boundaries between work and home life, longer hours and screen fatigue sits on one side with commute free days, more flexibility, more time with loved ones* and (my personal favourite) no shoes, sitting on the other. *Also recognising that home schooling has added enormous pressure.
What we have seen though, is that the arguments, ways of working and beliefs about what it means to ‘be at work’ for swathes of the workforce have been upended. And this is good news for people who have found that the old ways of working excluded them from certain roles, development or progression.
Now as we move along the roadmap out of lockdown, attention has turned to what working arrangements could and will look like in the future and an urgency to nail down policy positions to help organisations start conversations with their people. If you have been following along in the press, some big names have been discussing their approaches this week. There are organisations who are expecting everyone to be back in the office setting full time (Goldman Sachs), those that are exploring hybrid models with a combination of time in the office and wfh (PwC) and those that are in the process of confirming that large portions of their workforce will operate remotely in the future (HSBC).
However, even with policies to guide leaders, this will be another moment in time that your people will likely be feeling anxious about. We have all seen how things can be done differently and this affects people’s expectations. So now, more than ever, there will be a need for person centred leadership. Being prepared for and initiating real conversations with your people about what they need and want from their working experience and how that balances against the needs of the team and the organisation. Listening with an open-mind to the different experiences of your people so that you can create a more inclusive environment for all. Being brave to challenge your own preferences and beliefs about how the team can work together. Exploring ways together, one to one and within the team setting, to identify what great practices developed over the past year are worth keeping, what it is time to say goodbye to and what new things might be worth giving a go. And finally, staying agile – keep the conversation going, keep trying new things, keep reviewing progress and impact.