How COVID-19 is changing the way we work: People

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Life in the workplace has changed dramatically in the space of just one month. Recognizing that this mostly applies to workers in traditional "office jobs”, i.e., those easily transitioned to a work-from-home setup - I thought I’d take a look at how we’re being affected from the traditional viewpoints - from the perspective of People, Processes and Technology. I’ll talk about these in separate posts.

Part 1 - People

I saw a recent observation from Pete Fisher of Spotlight here in Denver who noted that productivity is up among Agile teams. I’d take this a step further and propose that productivity has the potential to be significantly up for all types of teams, regardless of the methodology they employ. The flexibility gained by working from home, once the initial adjustment is made, carries many benefits starting with the lack of a commute. Removing this potentially stressful and time-wasting travel puts more time in the hands of remote workers, either for work activity or to handle personal tasks.

Many years ago I was working for a client who was based in the Netherlands, and our joint end user was in Bermuda - all while I myself was in Colorado. In order to connect with my colleague Dave in the Netherlands, I would make sure to be up and online by 5:00-6:00am my time, and available through around 9am my time, which was 5:00pm for Dave, close to the end of his working day. We’d connect on most days (and this was way before Skype, Zoom, Teams or other collaboration tools) over the phone and make sure we had a handle on the most pressing items to be dealt with. After which, my day was mine to organize; if I needed to run some household chores I would usually take that time in the middle of the day, and then extend my own working time if needed. Not having a commute and having the flexibility to juggle my work/life balance in that way meant that the whole project was managed effortlessly, and I’m convinced that we were running as efficiently as possible.

Back to the current day, and it’s becoming clear that we’re already getting better at using the tools available. Folks are very conscious (I hope!) of the unwritten etiquette around a multi-person video conference. Basically, we can’t all talk at once, and we need to make sure that we're making our points as economically as possible. Somehow the mild irritation of someone rambling to make a minor point (or perhaps just to be heard) is amplified in the video chat versus in a meeting room.

In a physical office meeting room, there is also the chance of an occasional sidebar conversation - sometimes to good effect although often it’s something that needs to be reigned in so that everyone is focused on the matter at hand. In a video conference, there is really only one conversation that can be held meaningfully - the call effectively has a conversation bandwidth of one. So, as long as the call is run to a reasonable agenda, I’d suggest that the meeting should always be equally or more efficient than a regular meeting in place. It would be up to individual meeting leaders to address how they want to handle the ability to spin-off secondary topics.

I think the current situation also highlights to everybody the need and merits of effective collaboration. It’s easy and clichéd to grumble about the need to have meetings. But now we welcome the chance to connect with co-workers over a Zoom call, and in a sense, seeing everybody in their own homes strengthens the bond that we have - we’re all living through this together, trying to help each other.

The wrinkle with the current situation is that of course whole families are at home at the moment and may need to be occupied, supported or even educated while we’re working. But we are all at home and all in this together, and hopefully the flexibility I described above allows for that support to be provided while still working a productive day. It’s also a very stressful time, and there must be a huge benefit in living through these stresses together, at home, and that would outweigh any cabin fever tensions - although your mileage may vary on that!

In the next post I’ll talk a little about Processes and how they’re evolving.


Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

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