15 May 2020
I am rapidly approaching 31 years in an office-based work environment. Over this time I have seen a lot of changes in the work place but none more so that those experienced in the last few weeks of Covid19 lockdown. I do not mind admitting that this period has also completely changed my mind utterly on remote working. I was that dinosaur when it came to new ways of working! My view was if you weren’t in the office, you weren’t working. I was wrong and have now become an advocate of remote working from a variety of perspectives including, mental health, sustainability and business costs.
The Race for a Corner Office
In my early work days our ambition and success were framed by the day you would get your own office. After a few years of sole occupancy of your work space, habits set in and my generation started to look jaundicely upon the new work practices that emerged like open plan workspaces, hot desking, removal of offices from senior people.
The jewel in our crown was our Office
These developments in how we work were all driven by the ever-increasing cost of office space in Dublin and a belief that city centres or certain office districts were where you would rightly expect offices to be. This has come at a cost in terms of housing development via urban sprawl, excessive time spent commuting, with associated challenges of childcare, all the while contributing to a demand for fossil fuels and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
A better way of working?
Amid all the upheaval and tragedy caused by Covid19, we have been introduced rapidly to a new and better work model and our staff in Pinergy have embraced it wholeheartedly. Despite changes in demand for energy as business remains closed, we have been able to remotely serve all our customers well. While acknowledging some challenges with home working if your broadband is poor, or there is no child care available and the kitchen table is your desk, there are benefits too. Work life balance is much improved and getting rid of the long commute has added hours to people’s days.
A more remote but sustainable future
The environment is better off and long may remote working and technology remove stressful commutes, unnecessary travel, congestion and pollution. I believe our staff are very typical of work places now. When I asked them, every single person wanted remote working, at least some of the time, while social distancing is required. In the world past social distancing, over 80% want to continue to work remotely. They are right and I will do all I can as an employer to allow our staff have a better work life balance, while also helping our business to reduce CO2 emissions.
Challenges ahead, but remote working is here to stay
Let’s not forget though that we are social creatures and human contact will be vital going forward. Wellbeing will become an even more important in our new ways of working and managing teams. The business case and physical wellbeing benefits of a new work model are already proven. However, emotional wellbeing will need to be minded & managed like never before.
Will new leadership styles emerge?
As leaders, we will need to tool ourselves up with new skills and competencies to help our teams navigate and win in this new world, not only for business tasks but for emotional wellbeing. Being able to talk on screen for 30 minutes does not give you the full picture of how a person is doing. There is no feedback, no energy from a screen conversation on which to judge the wellbeing of the person. We need to help them and develop new practices to check in with them.
We are constantly looking at our people strategies and it is still early days for this new reality. However, I do think as leaders we have lots to consider and get done quickly, but people considerations are key:
- Strengthen (not weaken) the connection amongst teams, to the brand and to our clients.
- Understand a little more of everyone’s wellbeing. How are they coping with life’s current challenges? Be helpful. Build frameworks to support.
- Try new things. Be innovative. No one has written the definitive guide of leading in this crisis, so try things out and share successes. Learn from failures. I believe there will be a new openness to try things. This dinosaur for one is willing to!
These are just some of the new challenges for Irish business leaders in a covid world. But who doesn’t like a challenge!!