March 24, 2020
I am not a philosopher. I sell home and workplace furniture. But I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how radically different things will be – both in how we work and how we live – once we get through this dreadful period of our lives. We have the opportunity to embrace a whole new way of working which recognises and gets the best out of all parts of our community.
But get it wrong, and we could blur the boundaries between work and life, causing great harm to our wellbeing.
I think we can get this right. I’ve been so impressed by the speed with which so many people and firms, including global companies with thousands of staff, have adapted to home working with the minimum of disruption. Organisations that perhaps didn’t realise that flexible working was a viable option are now discovering that colleagues can still be productive and engaged.
The biggest prize is perhaps in how this may open up opportunities to so many people who have previously been at a disadvantage
That New Yorker cartoon doing the rounds – “My God…those meetings really could all have been emails.” – feels particularly appropriate. But the biggest prize is perhaps in how this may open up opportunities to so many people who have previously been at a disadvantage. Dr Frances Ryan’s words last week prompted a really interesting conversation – “Suddenly everyone is housebound,” she said “and the world has adapted.”
What can a truly flexible workforce look like, which can make the most of the talents of everyone, including the chronically ill, carers, stay at home parents, for example? A more inclusive workforce would be one which I believe is also much more adaptable to the next crisis, whatever that might be.
We are talking about a fundamental shift in the way we work, and if flexible and home working do become more embedded in the national psyche, then the programmes on assessments and compliance aimed at creating a healthy and productive workplace for colleagues, will become one of the most important areas of design and management in coming years.
Home working doesn’t need to mean loneliness and isolation. The explosion of video platforms like Zoom attest to a need to keeping people connected. And that shared sense of common purpose doesn’t have to be driven by location. This dramatic, enforced, shift can drive a kinder, more thoughtful approach, at a time when we are asking a generation to care about people two generations older than them. To feel connected to our community. The care in career.
There’s also an opportunity to make significant improvements over coming months in our broadband systems, and in our individual IT security. These innovations will be driven by imperative over coming months, but will again, I hope, leave a lasting and positive impact upon the ability of people and organisations to work flexibly.
We are seeing in real time the high performance workplace shift its axis from the office towards the home, which means a shift in emphasis from the organisational towards the individual. Get it right, and the rewards, for all of us, could be huge.
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