What will I keep? What will I change?

I was inspired to write this following Jo Carter’s tweet/post, based on whatsthepont’s original blog post found here: https://whatsthepont.blog/2020/03/18/is-anyone-deploying-innovation-and-learning-people-alongside-covid-19-response-teams/

What have you done differently? (descriptive)

In some ways, it’s as interesting to consider what’s stayed the same despite massive amounts of change and upheaval elsewhere.

Much of our workflow (Slack, Trello, GSuite) remains pretty much as is, but perhaps we’re leaning on them even more with the absence of shared physical office space.

We’re using Google Meetings for instances where a conversation or screen share helps bring clarity. Although we’re trying to be careful to not just replicate meetings in a virtual space and instead try to find ways to avoid them if possible using the tools at our disposal. Kudos to Polly Thompson for ensuring we don’t accidently copy and paste what we might have done in the office and consider if there’s a better/lighter touch way to do things now.

So, I suppose what’s really changed is how we communicate with each other. It trending toward more asynchronous and more writing things down. As someone who is currently trying to be a spouse, parent, teacher and colleague (and feeling like I’m failing on at least three of those fronts quite often) I appreciate being able to off-set my working day so I’m not trying to juggle those roles simultaneously. The downside of that is that in my experience it can elongate the day and leave very little time for anything else.

What have you learned? (reflective)

What have I learned?..

That a lot of our work can be done anywhere. I mean.. I think we knew this. But the constraints that have been thrust upon us pretty much confirms it beyond doubt. Although I’d caveat there with the special circumstances we’re in where EVERYONE is having to work remotely.

I’m always keen to acknowledge that being able to carry on working from home is a huge privilege. There are many who want to work, but can’t, or have to work and are putting themselves and those they live with at risk.

What that means in the long run, I’m not yet sure. Despite the hype, I do think it’s unlikely the office based 9–5 will disappear entirely. There was a reason it was the status quo and we’ve yet to see how that will try to reassert itself.

We’ve yet to see what happens when some of us work remotely whilst other don’t. The tricky part being that those who choose to be back in the office have to continue working as if they were remote to avoid isolating those that are not.

I’ve noticed absence of small talk that would normally punctuate the day. We still capture some of this via video calls and Slack — but it feels that as we head deeper in distributed working territory, these are the things that we have to be ever more intentional about keeping lest we just optimise for work only related communication.

It’s good to see that the organisation has tried to keep the social spaces open (especially outside of silos which feel more solidified at the moment) by having a Google Meet named ‘The Kitchen’ which people can drop in/out of during a couple of hours in the afternoon.

The flip side of this is that video calls can be super exhausting. I don’t know if this is a temporary side effect until we all get used to the medium, or just that having a camera pointed at your face (and often mirrored back to you) keeps your brain in a more heightened state of alertness.

So.. I guess the question is, what value does shared physical space provide? What am I missing, what am I not?

  • I don’t miss commuting, at all.
  • I do miss the ‘ritual’ of starting and ending work.
  • It’s sometimes been nice to have a harmonious blend of work and life.
  • It’s sometimes been hard to have a harmonious blend of work and life.
  • I do miss having a broader variety of working environments.
  • I do miss small talk and serendipitous conversations.
  • I’ve found it easier to set intentions and complete them.
  • I don’t miss fixed working hours.
  • I don’t miss lengthy meetings.
  • If I’ve not spoken to many people during the day I start to feel quite insular.
  • I’ve not found it as easy to switch off and rest during waking hours.
  • I’m getting more and better quality sleep.

A mixed bag I think it’s fair to say.

As I keep reminding myself, this is not normal ‘working from home’.

What has gone wrong? (we don’t take “nothing” for an answer, something always goes wrong.)

Not as much as I thought to be honest. That’s a testament to the team for being able to scramble to put things into place, and that our intention to architect our technology to work from anywhere on anything is already starting to pay dividends.

I think some of our bureaucracy has struggled with the switch to distributed working. I’m hypothesising that this is about workarounds that people would typically employ in an office environment (tracking people down to get things done). I think there’s an opportunity not just to make it easier for remote working, but easier for anyone, no matter where they are working.

More generally, I’ve got a hypothesis that silos have become reinforced. In the early days of the lockdown I think that was probably preferable as we defaulted to a more command & control model to ensure the important things were getting address. I think if distrubuted working really did become the new normal, we’d need a mechanism to better connect the silos up and figure out a more networked approach to work. I think this *is* something that the office provides — informal lines of communication to get stuff done.

What do you think about this?

I feel conflicted about the whole thing.

In some ways, it feels like I’m able to apply more focus to what I’m doing and it’s easier to prioritise on the here and now, and that’s most likely because our organisational priorities have shrunk to keep the most essential things going. The team have (and continue to) perform brilliantly despite the circumstances we find ourselves in.

And then at regular intervals I remember why we’re all stay in our homes and start thinking about both the short and long term implications of it and disappear down a deeply unproductive rabbit hole of trying to predict a future that is inherently unpredictable.

How do you feel?

I’m zig zagging between energised and knackered!

I feel both worried for the future, and optimistic that we can choose a better version of it than perhaps we had before us pre-corona virus. It’s been nice to see the small ways that people are helping each other. It’s been brilliant to be able to support local businesses, and see how those local businesses are trying to support their communities.

I feel like a new way of living and working is being shown to me, but it’s muddled up amongst trying to deal with a global pandemic that is sadly ending many people’s lives before their time.

When we eventually do start to be able to leave our homes, the world we return to will look quite different, and for a time whilst things are disrupted, we can choose what the new normal is. I feel militantly optimistic we can choose something that works better for everyone, and for our future generations.


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