If you have been participating in the same endless stream of zoom calls I have and the same small talk, you’re sick of the term “The New Normal.” I know I am.
But as we are getting back to business and I’m catching up with people in my network, I’m hearing some things I haven’t heard in a while.
“I’m so busy.”
“I’m working all the time.”
“I’m feeling so burnt out.”
I was feeling these things myself this summer. I realized it was weighing heavy on me. Not only was I working way too much, but I also missed my family. I missed my daily walk around the neighbourhood. I missed not having anything planned.
Are we forgetting everything we learned when the world went quiet? The pandemic was devastating in so many ways, but for myself and my family (which expanded to add another person into it during COVID) we learned about slowing down, not having plans, spending time together, and celebrating the big things with a small group.
Also as I checked in with my peers and coworkers during the darkest and lowest moments of the pandemic, there was a resounding message - everything was different. I thought it was a foregone conclusion that we would not be returning to work in the way we had done before.
Things I thought were gone forever:
Time in the office near your boss being an indicator of productivity or commitment level
The expectation that we can only build relationships in person
Prioritizing someone else’s business over our own mental health or our loved ones
Overscheduling and Undersleeping
But now I see these things coming back in full force. Instead of finding new ways to work, I’m surprised that so many businesses that COULD be operating online are feeling like they have sacrificed for too long and deserve more from their employees again.
As employees - I wonder if we could spend a bit more time in the possibility of what we pictured it looking like in June 2020. What does your career look like if you choose the best thing for you? How much more productive are you when you have a full life outside of work (which will happen again one day) and your work works with you to embrace that? First, with the industrial revolution, employers expected us to work for them on their terms. We had no other choice. Then, some companies realized that getting people to work for them required some acknowledgement of the workers as people. So they called themselves a family, fed them sushi and held ping pong tournaments. Whether this was on purpose or not, the outcome was working a ton and keeping the people even closer to their work than they were before. This is also the period where “Hustle Culture” was king.
When I picture the future of corporate work right now, I picture something so different. I picture:
Flexibility and the opportunity to design your work around your life - Quick reminder that the 40 hour work week in an office was designed with the assumption that you had a wife at home to take care of literally everything else except maybe mowing your lawn.
An acknowledgement of the whole person - obligations and responsibilities but also what lights you up and makes you uniquely you.
An opt in model - I believe that after a certain point of earning, people largely don’t make decisions based on money. They are driven by their ability to make an impact and feel like they are doing something they are passionate about. People want to know they are making things better.
I’m sure you’re like, this preschool sounds nice but where are the BUSINESS RESULTS??
Asynchronous decision making and communication - we are in the habit of talking to one another to make a decision or share information. Of course we are! We’ve been doing it for so long. But now, it’s possible and actually advantageous to use digital communication. Unless you are actively brainstorming/ coming up with ideas in that meeting (and be honest - really honest - how many meetings are truly collaborative vs full of updates ie: this meeting could have been an email?) Get in the habit of sharing information digitally. If an exchange goes back and forth more than twice then it’s worthwhile getting on a meeting to clarify. Otherwise, make that decision and MOVE ON.
Accountability - The hardest part about all of this is getting your head wrapped around this simple idea. If I can’t see people working - how do I know they are working? Simply - assigning them work and then following up to make sure that work gets done. Pointing them in the right direction and then reinforcing that direction on a regular basis. This is harder than just being in the same room as them but haven’t we all wasted time by looking like we’re busy? I could write a whole other post on this.
Believe me, I am more than excited to get back to some of the very best bits of pre-COVID life. But I urge you not to forget about the time we all slowed down and the things we learned about ourselves and each other. If we didn’t learn anything and all we did was pause, then we didn’t grow.