When lockdown ended, I found myself strangely lacking in enthusiasm for a return to the old normality, and I suspect I’m not the only one.
Here’s a little test for you. Asked the following question, “Do you fancy watching the match down the pub and going for a curry after?” How do you think I would answer?
1. No thanks, I’m staying in my bubble!
2. No thanks, I’m halfway through reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace and I want to get it finished before the weekend. Then I want to get started on Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
3. Yep. I’m up for that – see you there.
It’s not too difficult a question is it?
One of the many things we did at SYNAXON UK during lockdown was asking staff to design gift boxes consisting of things that they thought their colleagues would love, once all delivered we then spent an afternoon on a video call, with a drink opening our packages.
When it came to my turn, (predictably) most people had me down as watching the football and going for a beer and a curry after. And it’s true. There is nothing more I enjoy on a Saturday than seeing a good game (as long as Wolves are winning), followed by a swift half with some of the lads at the Bull on the way to Codsall Spice.
I had envisaged that, when the lockdown ended, I’d be back out there, supporting local businesses and eagerly making up for all those lost weekends. But strangely, when it came, I found that my appetite for Black Country Bitter and a Lamb Vindaloo was strangely lacking.
After she’d had a little sit down, my wife suggested a visit to the doctor. Or perhaps a psychiatrist! She also considered calling the West Midlands branch of British Beer & Pub Association to warn them of about the potential impending crisis.
To be fair, it did appear to be entirely out of character for me. But it seems I was not alone.
Many of us just don’t feel ready to go zooming back to the pub or the curry house – or for that matter, the workplace or out on business trips or to events, anytime soon. For now, most of us – myself included – will be staying exactly where we are and continuing to work – and socialise – from home.
Lockdown has been a revelation for us all. Yes, we miss the close interaction you get when you are physically in the same place with people. But we have all learned that we can be incredibly effective and productive when we are working from home.
The SYNAXON UK team have certainly benefited from this extended period of WFH in many ways. We already had a “work from anywhere” policy in place, and most of the team were already WFH for two or three days a week. This made the switch easier and since then we have all got very used to interacting on Zoom, Teams, and other collaboration platforms, and keeping the wheels turning remotely.
The feedback we get from members is along the same lines. They and their customers have got accustomed to the new way of working. It’s really demonstrated the value of an MSP. The wonder of technology means that most tasks can be performed remotely, and businesses are now putting in place systems and processes that will enable them to operate a hybrid (i.e. some people in the office, some at home), or on a totally virtual basis, in the future.
They are doing that because they believe further waves of COVID-19 are likely – or even probable – and that there may well be other pandemics at some point. They want to be ready.
This experience has really made us all think and accelerated the pace of change. People are asking a lot of questions that they just would not have considered before. Do we need such a big office, or any office at all? If we do keep that workplace, how do we reorganise it and make it safe for people?
There are all sorts of problems associated with returning to offices under the present circumstances. How do you monitor the kitchen and the coffee station? Do you have to keep a check on how many people enter and leave bathrooms, and whether or not they have washed/sanitised their hands? Can you use enclosed areas like meeting rooms and lifts? How do you manage corridors and entrances/exits? Do you need to stipulate when people can and can’t come into the office? i.e. do you have some kind of enforced flexitime?
The other day I stumbled upon the Cushman and Wakefield website, espousing the idea of the “six feet office”. It took me a while to realise that this was not about limiting the number of people in the office to three, or to one person and a dog. But when I eventually got my head around it, I could certainly see the benefits of this approach and have to take my bobble hat off to the entrepreneurial minds who saw the potential and are trying to help businesses get back to work safely.
I do now believe that we will not return to our previous working habits. We will instead have an entirely different office and/or workplace environment, and many of us will just work from home most of the time.
But then, if we don’t go back, how do we replicate the interaction and the sparking of ideas and imagination that we get when teams of people are physically together? Can we really expect to pick up on nuances and responses of other people in the same way over a conference call?
What impact will this have on individuals who perhaps don’t respond as well over a video conferencing call or meeting? Or is it beneficial for some people to be working remotely? How is all this affecting our mental health?
I can’t answer all these questions. But over the coming weeks and months, I’m looking forward to discussing the implications of the pandemic and how we return to the workplace. The situation is constantly changing, but it seems that offices and the way we all work and interact may never be quite the same again.
That said, I also think it has underlined the critical importance of being part of a team and community. Throughout the lockdown we have all been interacting more regularly and systematically and that’s brought us all together more. It has been good to know that we are not alone – and that everyone is facing the same challenges. I think that will continue to be important.
I do hope though, that we can return to some of our previous activities at some point. I miss going to the office and seeing my colleagues face to face. I miss going to meetings and events with members and suppliers. I miss getting the buzz and the inspiration that only this kind of personal interaction can give you.
I also miss going to the pub and out for a curry. But for now, all that will have to wait. From Monday to Friday, working from home is the “new normal”. And on Saturdays, for now at least, it will be take-outs and takeaways.