Setting out the known unknowns about work

With the majority of COVID-19 restrictions in England due to be lifted later this month, it is understandable that many are limbering up, ready for some grand ‘return to the office’.  Yet, unlike the pubs, hairdressers, and gyms we are not going back to what we left. This was an inevitability. The workplace was, and remains, an ever evolving and multifarious beast.   

Organisations, business leaders, and employees – all innocent bystanders – have been bombarded with the prescription to an apparent problem. This is by no means a new phenomenon, prior to March 2020 we experienced the same. However, the narrative was shaped slightly differently in order to align with the needs of the time. 

But what is the problem? We will hear the binary headlines being used as arguments, and an evident lack of nuance or structure displayed throughout. Presumptions thrown randomly at the gawping audience. As if a caged chimp was throwing its own waste at the unexpecting family, on their day out to the zoo.  

Truth is we are still unsure what we are trying to solve. Productivity will be claimed. Followed by the dreaded war on talent (lets go nuclear). And let’s not forget our good fiend, the spontaneity of collaboration.   

Global pandemic or not, nobody has all the answers.  

We can make educated guesses around trust, choice and control. Enormous strides have been made to ascertain what people want, what people need, and what they can be given.  

It is then we start to understand the fluidity of the great workplace conundrum, many moving parts with no one resting place or final destination. A state of constant flux.  

However, we have consumed the deluge of workplace rhetoric, it is time to put up the red flag. Not only is the solution first approach to workplace dangerous, but now there seems to be swell of conspicuous messaging where you (yes you, innocent bystander) are being informed that all the pieces need to be in place now. Right now, or at least prior to sitting back at your desk and not speaking to anyone for your 8-hour shift.  

A line in the sand has been drawn. A marker that not only states what space and service you should be experiencing, but when and how long you should be experiencing it for.   

The easing of restrictions should not be used as a deadline. Not everything needs to be in place and ready to go, once the doors open. And we, as workplace professionals, business leaders, and the humble employees, could all really do without the added peer pressure.  

Restrictions being lifted will indicate a starting point, not a finale. A point where we can continue to experiment and learn, albeit with post pandemic attitudes and experience. Where we can begin to shake the tree and see what, over time, works for us as individuals and the organisations we are attached to.  

So, to reiterate – nobody has all the answers. And do you know what? That is OK.  

This first appeared in the July 2021 issue of IN Magazine

Image: Sedus