The New Normal
Do you fear change?
The word “change”. A verb that entices very different reactions from people. Use the word with some and they get excited but, for others, this word can be frightening. Why? Well, it can be down to someone’s predisposition or, indeed, down to their history. Think about it; what did change really mean when someone has used it in the past? It might not be that something bad is happening, it might be that it is going to require more work initially or, at the minimum, great concentration. Even the smallest change requires great concentration.
Change takes effort
According to researchers in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic.
That’s a lot of work… no wonder I struggle to make regular exercise a habit. Yet change is all around us.
Change is constant
If there is one thing in this world that we can promise, if there is one constant, it is change. Change is constantly with us. It surrounds us every minute of every day. We can’t stop it, but do we really go with it? Do we truly embrace it? Maybe we do or maybe we say “we do”, yet there is evidence that we don’t.
What are we learning from COVID-19?
Sometimes it is only when change is forced on you that you adapt to it and, evolve with it. Take the situation with COVID-19, for example. For many around the world, this horrible virus has resulted in us being locked down in our own homes, only able to leave for essential purposes and exercise. Indeed, some people can’t even leave their houses. Clearly, it’s for our own and others protection, however for all but the few, it’s hard. How can we socialise, even work? Yes, we can use the phone, but you lose so much of your communication when people can’t see you. Mehrabian theory identifies that 58% of a face-to-face communication could come from body language, dependent on the type of conversation. Many people feel that they lose the trust if they can’t see someone, especially when deals are being done. So, does lockdown mean that we can no longer communicate properly? Well, actually, no.
Web communication saves all
Today, our technology means that we can communicate face-to-face on-line through web communication. Suddenly we all discovered systems that allow us to communicate for work and social reasons without leaving our homes. Even though we can’t be together, we can see each other and pick up the majority of the body language communicated. We can almost feel like we are in the same room.
Trainers, like myself, have facilities where we can run training sessions with large numbers of people that can be informative, interactive and fun. We can see the delegates, just as they can see us. We can show presentations, divide people into work groups and build conversation. We can, and are, building enjoyable productive training interactions that we can deliver from our homes. What’s more, the delegates never leave their houses either.
This is a major change. Just think of the money that can be saved in the reduction in travel, accommodation and facility costs, not to mention time. Working globally, as our team does, we can be more productive, getting to more people, more of the time.
Apply this across the business and consider the reduction in travel and its impact on individuals and the environment, let alone business costs. Our technical development team have been working like this for years, with some collaborating on projects while living in different countries. Has it impacted our quality of work or delivery times? Yes, but it has been for the better. We have been more efficient and more effective in achieving our objectives.
So, is this the New Normal?
Absolutely… well, almost. Yes, many are proving that they can function as well from home as they do from the office or from when they travel with the business. There is significant evidence here that we do not need to be travelling as much as we do. However, we shouldn’t stop all travel.
Just as we are proving we can work from home, many are also experiencing the need to get out of their homes, to socialise, to be with people. There is a reason that people go to live concerts; they need to feel the energy, feel the vibrations of the music that adds to the sounds and their enjoyment.
In business, there is still a need to ensure spontaneity and warmth within a team and with customers. This must be worked at and is still a lot easier to achieve when in the same room. With clients, it helps with the engagement, allowing people to feel more open and, as they are better able to read each other’s body language (if only subconsciously), they feel happier with them.
Do teams need to be in the same room often? Well that all depends on how well aligned each individual’s personal goals are with the business’ and the communication that the managers have in place. If someone’s personal goals are not aligned (and this can often be the case in lower paid, process-oriented positions), then being alone allows the mind to wander further. These people might do the minimum to be seen as being productive and therefore “earn” their pay.
Then there is both mental and physical health to consider. For some, just the loss of stress from not having to commute each day will improve their mental wellbeing and, if they make use of the time, their physical health. However, for some, the impact of being separated from a team is worse – they can feel isolated, outside of the team, even removed from conversations which can cause other negative emotions. Already, we are seeing some businesses running team social events online, to try to maintain a team feel. For managers, this places extra stress on ensuring the whole team feel fully engaged and integrated.
It is also down to the manager’s ability to both manage and trust people. In order to be trusted, you first must give trust but, for many managers this is hard, partly due to a lack of training. Managers need to move more towards productivity management, rather than monitoring the hours worked. Already, we have seen a change in attitude towards working hours in younger generations. Where older generations knew they had a working day within set hours, the younger generations are happier to work longer hours, if they can socialise more during the day. This was already challenging managers and moving to working from home just emphasises these differences.
Can we operate with fewer on-site meetings in the future? Can more of us work from home? Well, fact is that we need to. Increasing pressure on business budgets and time, along with the recognised impact on the environment and our mental welfare, means that we have to.
Yes, we will still do business trips, but they will be fewer.
Yes, offices will still exist, but their structures will change.
Yes, we will still need factories, distribution centres, schools, colleges and the like but there are elements even within these that could change.
Yes, we as a society will need more social interaction than we have today and, if we are travelling less, we will have more time to do it so that will be a benefit.
Of course, as managers, there are other impacts we need to consider. The Government will notice that businesses can run with fewer people in their offices and less business travel. So, will they challenge these aspects, reducing parking allowances and questioning office requirements, the need for company cars and business travel more?
For certain, in the future we are going to see a change in definition of working hours evolve and with it, maybe not the ending of rush hour but it could certainly be reduced.
Change is here
Grasp the change and mould it to what you want it to be and you will succeed. Go straight back to your old ways once the impacts of COVID-19 are over, with no reflection on what you have learnt, and your business will probably struggle. For many business leaders, it comes down to this challenge in the end:
From operating within the current lockdown environment, are you willing to accept that your business can be more efficient and more effective, with some of the changes to structure and processes? We have been forced to give greater trust to our team, allowing them more flexibility but, with greater guidance. Your team will hopefully be seeing the benefits of working in these new ways, especially if you followed the rules from my previous blog Successful Team Leadership during Lockdown. So, if the changes are working, then why shouldn’t they work when we move to the new normal?
There are some further factors that will impact on us when we move to the New Normal but that’s for another blog.
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