The new normal: working from home and its impact on business culture.

In early March of this year I remember reading the newspaper headlines describing businesses ‘evacuating’ offices as people became aware of new cases of COVID-19. Fast forward 5 months and, in many cases, the same offices are still empty, with staff continuing to work from home. To put things into context, just in one area of the UK it is estimated that only about 10,000 of the 120,000 workers based in Canary Wharf have returned to their offices.1

For businesses where home working is already a strategy, the wider lockdown would not have proved too difficult. Conversely, for businesses where homeworking became a sudden necessity, the wider lockdown provided a whole new set of challenges. For the latter, it’s likely work was more about ‘where you go’ rather than ‘what needed to be done,’ leaving many ‘forced’ homeworkers in an organisational cultural vacuum with limited or no opportunity to ‘connect’ with the ‘norm.’

On a personal level, I’m not convinced that the work life balance has shifted favourably with home working. Think about the number of occasions during your day when you become distracted by children, family, pets or even the weather (many great sun tans!) and stop working, leaving you with only the evenings and weekends to catch up. From a personal perspective, the need to negotiate with my son as to why Tom & Jerry should not be shown on my laptop during normal working hours, became a daily event!

From an organisational perspective, in order to move forward, a company’s culture needs to continually evolve and adapt as its raison d’etre changes, driven by customer demands and a changing marketplace. With the workplace effectively moved into the ether, the opportunity for cognitive inertia to set in (the tendency for beliefs, or sets of beliefs, to endure) becomes a real risk. Without positive action, this could have a serious, long term impact on any given business.

In addition to the culture challenge, it’s inevitable that innovation in the workplace will be severely impacted due to a lack of spontaneous, face-to-face interactions as well as the limitation of running structured workshops to develop new products, services or ways of working virtually rather than in person.

At a more transactional level, on-boarding and training new staff becomes more difficult, and potentially not as well executed, leading to the potential for poor business outputs. For example, how many times do we give ad-hoc coaching to new starters when they hit a problem for the first time or point them to someone who can help? This simply isn’t as easy with virtual working.

Given these challenges, businesses will need to adapt their way of thinking and consider how to change in order to continue supporting, developing and improving their employees and teams. It’s inevitable that organisational change will be required to deliver a ‘new normal’. To be successful, it needs to not only bring the people ‘back together’ safely, but allow the business culture to adapt to and embrace whatever the ‘new normal’ becomes.

In order to achieve this, a business should consider developing change leadership skills within their teams and bring in specialist support to manage the delivery of focussed change activities. The key is to recognise that change is required. Once you’ve acknowledged the need to evolve, you can then engage support from experts such as Kwatee to understand, scope and deliver the change successfully.

1 The Guardian Newspaper 16th July 2020

Steve Morley