Transparency in the workforce
I’ve asked the question in a specific way. “Work from home” is going to become a reality for most office workers over the coming months as we struggle to contain or delay Coronavirus.
It is likely that many offices will not be able to function normally if there is a confirmed case of coronavirus amongst its staff. In shared workplaces, it may not even be your work colleagues who trigger an office closure. Already in London we see a number of offices closed to work with workers asked to “work from home”.
We added coronavirus to our risk register two weeks ago (thanks to a risk officer who made me think of what a Plan B for our start up would be. Have you sat down with your bosses or your staff and worked out what should happen if you had to leave your work space.
We’ve identified three key metrics “accountability, trust and efficiency” for working out if we could manage remotely. Are each of us accountable to the business for our output, can we trust each other to do our bit and do we have the tools to work effeciently.
Putting aside the obvious benefits of collaboration in a single workplace, their seems relatively little downside in having to work from a number of locations and there could be some savings in time travelled which could lead to an easier and maybe more productive working day – in the short-term.
This will inevitably lead to people questioning the value of physical collaboration and there I am already getting approaches from consultants keen to sell me “transparency solutions” which appear to involve giving me means to spy on my staff.
I laugh at this abuse of “transparency” though I can see why “accountability” needs to be reinforced by vigilance where a workforce’s productivity cannot be trusted.
Can technology cope?
I’m speaking with someone on zoom this morning who I could meet in Edinburgh next week. I thought “why wait?”
Only a few year ago a video-conference call meant booking a room and spending half the allotted time fiddling with technology you didn’t understand. Now most meetings are phone to phone with the option to link to a larger screen without a wire in sight.
For many people, broadband speeds are as high or higher at home than at work and the cost of connectivity is minimal. While issues of security are still there, for most people – who work in an office – remote working is no longer challenging from a technology perspective.
But the capacity to separate work and office life is another matter. Many people find their efficiency working from home drops because they cannot separate themselves from the distractions of home-life. This does not seem to be entirely generational, I have friends and relatives in their twenties who want to work from a work environment. But I acknowledge that the trend is towards home-working and it’s driven by those coming into the workforce.
I’ve found co-working inspirational because it takes me out of the solipsism of age. I am confronted on a daily basis by the energy , vitality and competence of those less than half my age. Bringing what is formally known as “diversity” into my work life, makes me think outside myself – it reduces the risk of AgeWage becoming focussed on the needs of a white- 59 year old- male.
And I don’t think you can replicate knowing “the other” by watching youtube videos.
Technology helps for business as usual and while it may help machines learn, it doesn’t help us learn the fundamental life-lessons we need to understand each other personally.
Face to face meetings help us learn in 3D.
Are we prepared for work from home?
Already we are seeing empty offices around us in WeWork Moor Place. I have to consider the evacuation of our space as a real possibility if coronavirus is linked to our building and obviously I need to work on a worst case scenario that one or more of our small team catches the virus and we have to self-quarantine.
There is an argument that we stop co-working now and that’s what’s happening at Chevron , HSBC, Deloitte, S&P and no doubt many more offices.
Some bankers are being told they can expense taxis to work rather than go on the tube (we use corporate Santander bike keys!).
I think Coronavirus will accelerate an acceptance of home-working as an alternative to office work and drive firms further down the road to co-working with the flexibility it brings.
Will it mark the end of the City or the West End or Canary Wharf as business hubs? I think it will take more than a virus to do that, but I think it will change our attitude to routines which could make going to work a less regular activity.
I speak as a Londoner and suspect that London is probably different (we don’t have a car or car-parking culture).
I’d be very interested to hear from others – especially non-Londoners – as to how they are preparing for the chance Coronavirus will impact their working arrangements.
For me, the chance is increasingly becoming a likelihood.