With so much extra time to sit around musing during lockdown, my mind keeps wandering to what good may come from tragedy, from this unnatural pause to everyday life. This is probably mainly down to something instinctual in my brain trying to focus on something uplifting on a societal level, as episode after episode of a very good BBC drama is certainly a happy distraction, but only a fleeting one.
While there are some potentially wonderful things that could come from this time of reflection at a macro-level, like a greater commitment to sustainability and environmentalism, a less travel-obsessed culture, and a real increase in community spirit and support, I’ll narrow my focus here to potential positive changes in the workplace, based on what I’m reading, hearing from friends, or experiencing personally in my day-to-day working life.
The first development I’m really excited about is the increase in the sense of trust in the ‘workplace’ between colleagues, between managers and the people they manage, and across departments, too. For those who moved from working every day in an office to working every day at home, there were undoubtedly new ways of working to figure out and little hiccups at the beginning. Once in the new routine, though, I’m finding that there’s a real, genuine sense of trust and responsibility on both ends of any project. Working from home also naturally means less time spent in last-minute meetings, less time worrying about office dynamics, and more time for tasks that require deep focus that are difficult to do when context-switching throughout the day in an office. Not only is this good for work relationships and work-life balance, but it’s good for productivity, too.
Importantly, that’s not to say working from home doesn’t have its downsides, especially for those working in small spaces at home, or for parents who need to somehow balance childcare with work. And the fact that we do enjoy and crave in-person socialising and communication is undeniable.
The increase in trust more generally is certainly a positive development, however, and will hopefully translate into more employers giving employees the flexibility to work from home more frequently post-lockdown, if that’s what works best for them.
From a more personal perspective, a change I’d love to see continue is the breakdown of more formal working relationships into more personal, informal ones. From seeing our manager’s children pop up on a Zoom call to seeing the cool interior design of one of our colleague’s rooms, there perhaps hasn’t been a time in recent history when we’ve seen more of people’s full selves at work. At the moment, it seems people’s work identity and personal identity are nearly one in the same. Perhaps that’s partially because we’re all going through something quite scary together, but it’s probably also because we naturally see the other many facets to our colleagues’ full lives.
In a time where we spend more time with people at work than with our families, connecting on a more personal, human level is an incredibly positive thing – not only on an individual wellbeing level, but on a professional level, too. I believe there’s real value in the literal and metaphorical breaking down of barriers and a warmth that comes from being in a less formal environment without inherent pre-defined power structures and dynamics.
Finally, I think we’ll see the trend of people moving to multi-hyphenate careers post-crisis continue at an even faster rate. For those who have been unlucky enough to be made redundant, or for those on furlough, many are exploring new side projects, or tapping into passions they haven’t had time to dip into in a while. Many are spending the time on online courses they’ve been wanting to start for ages, but just haven’t had the time for. Even if it doesn’t mean people will automatically turn to freelance work so they can spend more time on their side hustles, I’m hopeful that there will be a positive mind shift to thinking of work differently, with more options and more freedoms than before, largely thanks to the democratising power of the internet.
While there will be many things to look forward to in our personal lives post lock-down, from going to the local pub with friends to hugging our parents tightly, I think there are some positive things to look forward to in our working lives, too. That’s not to say things will be easy, given the economic situation, but the greater trust, the deepened relationships, and the ability to explore our different passions, will only help drive us forward as we navigate our new, mask-free world.