Now it’s our turn: Experiencing workplace transformation at rapid speed
Like it did for so many teams across the globe, March 2020 has hit us like a jolt. In 10 days, we moved from a flexible way of working that supported working from home, to a mandatory virtual format for teamwork.
As practitioners in Activity Based Working and organizational change who guide our clients through workplace transformations, we know that personal choice is key. It is one of the best practices for maximizing employee engagement, wellbeing, and productivity: choosing when we work, how we work, and with whom we work.
In a new normal where we’re told where to work, the design question for our team became: how can we still foster choice during a time when we feel so restricted?
Working collectively, we took three steps as a team to respond to this challenge:
- While everyone was now working ‘from home’, we encouraged staff to choose where ‘home’ was. Some went to stay with their extended families, some returned to their countries of origin, and some are braving it in New York City.
- We encouraged staff to design their own schedules, effectively choosing when they work around vital meetings. Some are parents taking on new responsibilities as educators, some are students completing online coursework, and others have now changed time zones to be with family.
- We offered a “just-in-time” training to staff on virtual facilitation and invited staff to choose which virtual skill to build now in preparation for a slew of client sessions.
Beyond supporting personal choices, we also made important choices as a team, including adopting a working set of virtual team norms that we revisit weekly, and agreeing to meet three times a week rather than two to check in, coordinate work, troubleshoot, and develop new solutions to emerging challenges.
With this foundation in place, we have felt more prepared to tackle the unknown challenges coming our way. We continue to iterate and change, as both our context and individual sets of needs continue to change.
However, the work we’ve done to transition to an all-virtual team has felt in some ways like a ‘Band-Aid’ to get us through the initial jolt to virtual teaming in March and April. The harder work is most certainly ahead of us, as we use this interim time to prepare to enter a ‘new future of work‘ that fosters more flexibility and virtual connection. As we navigate this transition, our existing growing pains and opportunities are showing up more magnified in this new context.
Three topics coming up next on our agenda include:
(1) Figuring out how to balance the need for interpersonal connection with the time commitment it takes.
We are a team that thrives professionally when we are connected personally, yet now feel the demands on our limited available team time more than ever. (Speaking personally, I feel this challenge acutely as a working parent: I feel compelled to
both connect more with my family to unite in this crisis but also to be more available to my team to help navigate challenges.) What will be the right balance between the time we spend connecting on relationship, task, and overall strategy in this new way of working?
(2) Clarifying when and how we share knowledge outside of team meetings to fully support our flexibility to choose when to work.
As a small team working in one location, we were spoiled by being in the same place at least once or twice a week to have important conversations and fill in the blanks left by our online tools and systems. What are the methods and practices for asynchronous communication that we should adopt to ensure our full involvement in decision making and information sharing?
(3) Gaining clarity on how to respect time boundaries while also promoting flexible schedules in a time when each day is blurring into the next.
While some on our team seek to stick with the 9-to-5 day as much as possible, others need to use the quiet of evening and weekend hours to get through work in this period. And the same goes for our clients. How do we define what our individual or collective “off-hours” are, and set expectations about chat and email notifications during that time?
These questions have been alive on our team since before our transition to virtual work but are only more important as we chart the course ahead. And we know they are on the minds of our partners and clients as well, as we collectively get ready for the New Future of Work.
We’re using this time as a team so that we’re ready as always to guide our clients on the change journeys ahead.
We welcome the chance to learn from your insights and experiences as we continue to navigate workplace transformation together.