One of the things I miss most since leaving the mission critical teams’ environment is the sense of play at work. Going to work to workout and eat together, and to muck about around the team rooms. There was always a sense of play … until we needed to get serious of course. I have observed it in the firehouses, where fire-teams spend time cooking and relaxing together. In emergency and trauma wards, where teams awaiting the arrival of serious casualties might engage in stress-releasing play in the moments leading up. Or you will see it in astronaut teams in space, who deliberately make time for play. The current COVID ‘deployment’ we are all on, a notion inspired by Coleman Ruiz’s excellent articles, gives me pause to reflect on what we might learn from these teams.
Sifting through the multitude of surveys from various industries and environments about working from home (WFH), it seems to be a reasonable, general observation that there are many people who did not struggle too much in making the transition to WFH. Some of those who were required to move to WFH made the adjustment easily. Further, and quite predictably, the numbers show that as time passed it became easier. Humans are a highly adaptive species, so no surprises here.
Up to 80% of respondents to several SME surveys we reviewed felt, after some expected initial teething problems, they had adequate tech support, direction, and communications to be productive and work effectively from home. Notwithstanding the negative impacts of ‘iso’, the benefits (no commute times, time with family, and increased task focus) have arguably outweighed the challenges (collaboration, creativity, and lack of room at home). Yes, some businesses have struggled more than others, but I boldly offer that they will be better for the struggle, more resilient, in terms of systems, security, and people.
Indeed, some flexible-workplace naysayers may be eating a few hats about now. But it is not all upside. The reduced social connection and face to face interaction is the biggest trade-off and a significant one at that. As a thought experiment, if you remove the current social isolation requirements from the WFH equation, and were, therefore, able to access social connection at will, how would this impact on the scenario? On productivity and efficiency? I suspect we will have the answer soon.
Regardless of the outcome of this ongoing social experiment, it throws the whole modern work-life-balance (WLB) and WFH paradigm into the washing machine, or so it seems. The separation of work and home life seems more blurred than ever. But is this a bad thing? If this unprecedented challenge has taught us one thing, isn’t it that our obsession with searching for patterns and certainty where little exists, makes us vulnerable? Perhaps now our WLB is more ‘up for grabs’; that is, maybe we need to be less passive in how we organise and prepare ourselves around modern life. I have often argued that our calendars are too empty, and not full enough. At least not full enough of the important stuff.
At Stotan, we understand that many humans’ lives are more complex than the current linear eight-hour, 9 to 5 thinking. We know that modern human challenges won’t be solved by off the shelf widgets or workshops. We suggest a more sophisticated and deliberate approach because not everyone is the same, we all have varying needs. We will require a different approach if we want to evolve the WFH/WLB paradigm.
Blurring the boundaries may not be something to be afraid of. Rather than searching for the patterns and certainty of an imagined WLB, perhaps our mindset should seek to create a blended or complex adaptive approach. We may just realise a new, more rewarding and meaningful way of being and belonging?
Whatever happens, it seems the answer is not in the old paradigm of more time at home (family time = good) and less time at the office (working long = bad); rather, a new paradigm where both are intermingled. Work and home dancing together rather than wrestling each other. Who knows? And, with all this cheap office space coming online, you may just find yourself going home to work and going to work to play.