How can you bring your team with you as you navigate the post-covid world? Organisations that listen creatively and learn together will be able to get out of remote-working silos, work more sustainably and keep staff happiness levels high.
photo by @soyhivan on Unsplash
If 2020 was the year of scrambled work from home arrangements, lost revenue and organisational stress, 2021 is the year of the restructure. Particularly now, as we head into the final few months of the year and pandemic-related restrictions are all-but lifted, organisations are asking ‘how do we really want to work in 2022 and beyond?’
For some, the answer might be cautiousness, cutbacks and a continuation of the survival mode we’ve all been in for the last 18 months, driven by fear that the currently promising economic signs won’t last, and a desire to ‘get back to normal’. But that would be a short-sighted loss of opportunity.
Perhaps your organisation wants to take this chance to make a real, long-term difference to the way you do things? Restructuring and re-evaluating not to tighten up and push on as before, but to work out how to collaborate better, listen more and work more sustainably into the future. Learning the lessons of the pandemic, rather than trying to pretend it never happened.
How the landscape’s looking right now
Things are improving, with the London School of Economics reporting that 6% of businesses were at risk of failure within three months in July, compared to 14% in January. GDP growth is promising, though still nearly 5% below its pre-pandemic levels.
A survey in June, just ahead of the recent post-coronavirus opening, found that businesses were the most confident they had been since 2005. But worries remain, with 48% of small businesses saying that they are still concerned about the threat of another lockdown, and nearly 40% reporting that it will take them 18 months to three years to recover from the pandemic.
Cautious optimism, but still a great deal of unease about the future among both businesses and their employees. So what’s next?
The realities of coping with 18 months of disruption and uncertainty, and for many, reliance on the furlough scheme and government support, makes planning for the future difficult. It is, of course, much easier to make top-down changes and hope for the best. A more collaborative way of working isn’t necessarily an option in the short-term.
Many businesses - according to Forbes the majority of larger businesses - are keen to bring all their employees back to the office in September, often with little consultation. This is an understandable response to uncertainty. As the date by which it seemed likely that office work could return was pushed back multiple times, from summer 2020 onwards, asking people to come back en-masse is driven by a desire to get back to normal as fast as possible.
What we can say with certainty is that the sudden shift to distributed work has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies.”
Will business as usual actually work?
There are a lot of unanswered questions. While the requirement to self-isolate as a contact has been dropped for double-vaccinated people, and vaccinations seem to be doing a good job at keeping hospital numbers low, no-one really knows what effect the return of schools in September (along with cooler weather and rising levels of flu) will bring.
The signs are good, but many are understandably nervous about an office return - both employees and employers.
For many individuals, remote working has also brought huge benefits. Being able to use what was once commuting time to spend more time with their families and on hobbies, and the opportunity to move further away from work has been fantastic for many. Employers demanding a full return to the office may find that many employees would rather quit than agree.
But can real collaboration really happen if remote or hybrid working continues? Yes, with a little imagination.
As Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack put it:
“What we can say with certainty is that the sudden shift to distributed work has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies.”
This could include how technology is used, the changing nature and role of mentoring, relationships between junior and senior staff, sustainability commitments and even the finer details of meetings procedures.
Reconnecting through restructure
One of the biggest concerns about remote working is that it leads to silos that make real collaboration difficult. 41% of people say they don’t feel connected to their colleagues when working remotely.
But it’s not an inevitability that long-term remote or hybrid working will cause disconnection. Silo working can happen even in teams that are fully in the office, and often did, pre-pandemic. Chats over the watercooler are not a substitute for an open collaborative culture.
There’s also the sustainability consideration. For a few months in 2020, we saw how things might be without traffic on the streets and planes in the sky. The clarity that provided, along with the increasingly obvious effects of climate change, means that sustainability is no longer an optional extra. 83% of people don’t think their employers are doing enough on sustainability, and 65% are more likely to work for a company that is taking action, according to a Reuters survey.
How can your organisation address the future while taking account of the many, sometimes clashing, concerns of employees, customers and the wider world? Technology will play a part, and conversations absolutely need to be had on how to use technology thoughtfully. But there’s no real substitute for getting together.
Benefits of involving staff in the conversation
Your people should be a natural and meaningful part of any conversation you have about your future, as it is they who will bring it to life. Without genuine discussion of people’s fears and ideas, you can’t lay solid foundations for your future, as you won’t understand fully what your present is.
As we’ve already seen, many staff are now willing to leave organisations that don’t take their need for hybrid working seriously. They may well feel the same about those that don’t listen to them on other issues.
Collaboration... in a forest?
Where can you go to have these kinds of discussions? Simply calling a meeting in the office means that you’ll be signalling ‘business as usual’.
Instead, why not take your team away from the office, away from the restrictions of desks and walls, and allow them to talk freely in nature.
Time spent in nature is known to improve wellbeing, energise and facilitate creative thinking.
Nature naturally brings people together and develops connection, as away from the usual distractions and barriers that develop in an office environment (or indeed, on Zoom), in the forest, everyone is equal.
Our ancestors spent their entire lives in nature, and a couple of hundred years of urban life hasn’t changed that. Sitting in a circle, around a fire, we feel connected to one another and the elements. There is no competition, because there’s no need for competition. Barriers are broken down, because they’re simply not there.
To make your time around a forest campfire productive, use the time to do something practical and creative together, like cooking together or crafts or designing and building a shelter. You’ll benefit from working together away from technology and using different parts of your brain to do it. You can also gather sticks for the fire together, lay it and cook on it. These small, ancient rituals will bring your team naturally closer.
You may not need much facilitation at all in the traditional sense, but make sure you give everyone a chance to speak - including the quieter voices, for example by using a talking stick, and capture outcomes in some way (ideally without using technology).
How we can help
If you'd like some help with this, the creative team-building and collaboration days that we facilitate provide businesses and organisations the opportunity to refresh, reconnect and plan for the future in a way that can’t be recreated either on Zoom or in the office.
Fun, practical activities bring people together and break down the barriers that might have formed after 18 months of remote working. In the wild, away from laptops, phones and distractions, working together feels natural and unforced. That gives you the perfect stepping-stone to collaborative discussions on why, how and where your organisation goes next.
On a Legacy and Purpose day, you could redefine your collective purpose, based on trust and a shared vision.
On a Teamwork and Collaboration day, you could re-learn how to listen to each other and agree how to work together better into the future, both online and off.
On a Sustainability and Social Responsibility day, you could bring your team together to think creatively about practical ways you can put sustainability at the heart of your next steps.
And if you can’t decide which might work best, talk to us about developing a bespoke day for your team.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.