Can’t be the new normal

Because of COVID, every day we hear about how we are now working in the “new normal” and must adjust our daily routines.  The articles and conversations are as if this is a given and we simply need to adjust.  However, I believe there are many impacts to people, society and business performance that we can’t simply accept as the new normal.

The aspect of the new normal that I am referencing here is that Work from Home (WFH) will now be the new standard.  I understand many people have been doing this for much of their careers and don’t understand why people consider the concept of WFH being a challenge.  My perspective is that there are certain positions or even people’s personalities that can operate in this model; however, it isn’t for everyone, every position, or every stage in one’s career.

My initial premise is that humans are social beings and need interaction with others.  During these prolonged periods of remoteness, people are being deprived of this basic human need.  We look to technology to help in times of this pandemic, but it should be used as a tool to bridge us to the non-pandemic future versus calling it the new normal.

Here are a few examples of why I believe this extended new WFH “normal” is negative:

Collaboration and Innovation – There is a lot of new technology that is being leveraged today in an attempt to personalize meetings; however, Zoom meetings and attempts to leverage online whiteboarding capabilities, don’t take the place of collecting in a room and having a collaboration/innovation session.  Personal interactions, stealing the marker from someone to enhance their ideas, and the energy generated can’t be replaced online.  In face to face meetings, people feel more compelled to be engaged.  When working in an online environment, people tend to multitask, address emails or other urgent issues during the time set aside for the dedicated meeting.  This occurs in face to face meetings as well, but the tendency has picked up during this period of isolation.

Casual Interactions – Impromptu casual interaction is nearly eliminated in WFH settings.  Random office chats that provide the much-needed break from the daily work are now replaced with the potential to engage with the family.  Though this family engagement is a positive aspect to WFH, it doesn’t provide the same level of psychological escape and can actually cause additional stress.  While these casual chats in the hallway may be distractions, the separation from sitting/standing at our desk, is important to close out issues that may not be considered critical enough to set up an Outlook meeting.   Spontaneous chats and random interactions provide reasons for periodic breaks.  These breaks are needed to keep your mind focused.  Separation from the computer provides a break from a particular work item and provides additional time for more creative encounters

Networking – I have always been a strong proponent of networking, especially for people who are early in their careers or new to their companies.  While I am much later in my career than others, it’s more difficult in today’s world for people to network and expand their visibility within the company.  For example, previously, you were able to take advantage of the casual interaction mentioned above to introduce yourself to someone that you believe can help with your success.  These impromptu encounters are very unlikely to happen in the WFH environment because the probability of getting 10 minutes on someone’s calendar for this type of engagement is unlikely.

Companies need to take every precaution to keep their employees safe; however, part of the balance needs to be on understanding the psychological impact and well-being of their organization.  Organizations need to encourage new ways of working in this current environment to address the underlying challenges; however, we can’t accept this as the new normal.  While this pandemic has impacted the way we will do business forever, we can’t allow ourselves to operate as if the pandemic is forever.  As I write this, there is encouraging information that vaccinations with start within the coming days, and life may get back to normal in the next 6 months.

Making the most of Holiday Parties

As we come to the end of the year, many of us will be participating in holiday parties for our businesses with our companies and potentially customer/partners as well.  While some dread these events, they provide a great opportunity to socialize and network.

To make the most out of these parties, try following a few of the tips below:

First and foremost, yes, you have to go.  Unless you already have something else planned, you should attend the company party.  It is important for you to support your colleagues who put together the party and you will probably be surprised at how much fun you have in a social non-work environment.

Set boundaries.  It is likely that there will be alcohol served at the event, so make sure you set a level of boundaries and limits and keep yourself in check.  While this is meant to be a social event, impressions of your character will be made even at these after hour activities.  You don’t want to be the person that everyone is talking about in the coming days – “Did you see Sally at the party?”  After 30 years of attending these events, I can still remember people who went a bit overboard and we still talk about them at social gatherings – “Remember when Ted head butted that goat?”  Have fun, but set some boundaries and keep yourself in check.

While it may be difficult, because this is what you have in common with others in the room, don’t talk about work – this is a social event and not one to hash out the issues of the day.  Make sure you focus on building social relationships with your co-workers.  Gaining a stronger understanding of each other at a personal level will help the effectiveness at the office and make everyone more productive.

Parties are generally a good opportunity to interact with people that you don’t necessarily know or see on a regular basis.  Try not to spend all of your time with your regular office buddies.  Use this time to mingle and network.  Many people wonder if they should approach a senior executive.  While senior executives are at the party for a social event, this is a great time to interact with them.  Again, try not to focus on business, but make small talk about something interesting in the market, world events or their favorite sports team.  I have heard that the safest question to ask is about their holiday plans.  Getting to know them in this environment will help them form an opinion and potentially remember you at important times in the future.

Last but not least, be thankful and share gratitude.  In these times where everything is connected and constantly measured, we are often reminded about all of the challenges that lay ahead.  We should use this time to reflect on the progress that we have made through the year and celebrate successes.  Spend time at these events thanking others for their support and sharing your appreciation for their efforts throughout the year.  Specifically remember to thank the host and coordinator of the party.  This is often a thankless job.

So as the holidays approach, be safe and make the most of the holiday parties.

Happy Holidays!

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