Planning is already underway for the dramatically redesigned workplace that will be our new normal from now until the day the pandemic is brought to heel. We’re already getting a vision of how it will all look.
But how will it feel?
The rules of socially distanced procedure go against everything we have grown used to. Running to squeeze into an already packed elevator. Having a chat on your way to or from the restroom. Or passing a colleague awkwardly in the hallway, not wanting to get trapped in a conversation, but also not wanting to appear antisocial. These are just a few of the inconveniences of the past. But now that they’re no longer allowed, we kind of miss them.
The strategies for our re-start will involve greater physical distances between people, unidirectional walking areas, temperature checks, staggered arrival hours, and geez – they’re even going to take our dry-erase markers and projector remotes away.
Clearly these protocols are being implemented for the right reasons, backed by extensive research and experience. Many international companies and property managers in Asia have already tested out floor plans, traffic patterns, and behavioral regulations in their buildings, where the outbreak and the management of the curve are all a few months further ahead than in the West.
So, the “look” is coming together, but how about the “feel?” Employees who come back to the office will have to deal with the shock of instant change, which is something we’re not very good at. For those who still stay at home, they must deal with a sense of isolation and fear of missing out (FOMO).
It will feel strange and uncomfortable, however necessary it may all be.
Fortunately, this is happening in a time when technology actually makes it possible to keep going. Many of us will still work in our homes. There will be staggered schedules and we may not be in office at the same time as our colleagues. But the addition of video will help to continue to bridge the gap, allowing those at the office to see and hear those at home – and vice versa – reestablishing a sense of connection within teams.
Feelings are important
I think it will be important for managers and leaders to remember how people feel, since so much motivation and productivity rides on a team’s ability to remain balanced and cohesive. It means encouraging reach-outs and connections – virtual and live coffee meetings – to talk the small talk and share the feelings that team members are keeping inside.
This means continuing to use videoconferences for meetings. And for those face-to-face chats – the MBWA and gemba walks – engaging in active listening and the situational leadership that we strive to practice.
The change this pandemic has brought upon us can be somewhat mitigated through strong leadership – the essence of which is communication. So, as the office gets redesigned around you, with larger spaces and more barriers, remember there is one anti-barrier right in front of you… letting people feel how they need to feel right now.