Remote work or back to the office? How nature can help you to navigate the right path for your organisation.
On 23rd March 2020, as Boris Johnson confirmed the inevitable coronavirus lockdown, everyone’s world changed, abruptly and decisively.
Days, even hours, before we commuted to work on grimy, busy trains, worked all day surrounded by hundreds of colleagues in open-plan offices, and socialised elbow-to-elbow in packed-out pubs.
We were forced to adapt suddenly to back-to-back Zoom meetings at the kitchen-table while listening to a six-year old’s maths lesson. Our lives beyond the home were reduced to a daily walk around the block and a weekly supermarket queue.
The change was brutal but necessary. There were no choices, either for organisations or individuals, and no time to think before we took action.
Now, as we come out of lockdown, we do have time to think as we plan a future that combines the best of our pre and post-pandemic worlds.
The problem? Not everyone will agree on what that future will look like. The old normal has gone, and we don’t yet know what the new normal is.
The organisations that thrive will be those that recognise that everyone now has their own definition of normal, and is able to adapt to these multiple normals with both empathy and ambition.
Is it time to bring your team back?
In your organisation, you might have:
There is no straightforward way to keep every group happy. Some roles might lend themselves naturally to continued homeworking, while for others, there is a clear business need for people to be in the office meeting clients and working directly with colleagues.
New starters may be desperate to meet their colleagues and clients in person for the first time. Young people who started their first job in lockdown may have spent their whole working life to date at home. Others may have made significant life changes - including moving home - that depend on remote working.
Those with vulnerabilities to coronavirus may still feel anxious to be in a public space, after a full year of avoiding others. Those who’ve lost loved ones may still be dealing with trauma and grief.
Leading consultative change
Any organisation that tries to snap straight back to pre-March 2020 ways of working will be at risk of damage, both collectively and individually. Staff who want to stay working from home may leave if they’re expected to work in the office five days a week. Equally, those yearning for company, may look elsewhere rather than continue to work remotely. Clients who are keen to return to face-to-face meetings might take their business elsewhere if they don’t get them, and vice-versa.
The only way to navigate this is with consultation and empathy. After a year of command and control style leadership - in response to rapid change and uncertainty - according to Leadership in the New Now (Boston Consulting Group, 2020), organisational success in 2021 and beyond will depend on empathetic leadership that recognises that there has been no single pandemic.
There will be people in your organisation who have had the worst year of their lives, and those who have had one of the best.
Even without the pandemic and its associated stress, people differ in the way they cope with organisational change. According to the Fisher Curve, you can expect around 10% of your people to enthusiastically embrace and drive change, 80% to take a cautious ‘wait-and-see’ approach and 10% to resist change. All of these feelings are valid and should be acknowledged and discussed as you find your new way of working.
For most organisations, a flexible hybrid model of part office and part remote working will be the best way forward - but this can only be established by working together. In contrast to the way in which we were all suddenly cut adrift from each other last March, now is the time to work collectively to decide our future.
Reasons hybrid working works
While some businesses, even pre-pandemic, successfully used 100% remote working, there are clear benefits of having some time in the office, as well as some time at home.
According to a report by financial institution the FMSB, remote working can mean that staff work longer hours but with no commute time to decompress they may burnout and according to Cal Newport, productivity may actually fall. Remote working can also lead to disconnection from the company culture.
Maintaining creativity and connectedness is also difficult while working remotely. Creative tension is significantly boosted by regular face-to-face interactions. Disagreement – which may be mild or extreme – is one of the driving forces behind team innovation, adding more energy to the process of closing the gap between vision and solution.
While you can replace some innovative, creative discussions with email and Slack, it’s pretty much impossible to replace all of it. In the office, discussions happen organically. On Slack, they are directed and are often more lists of tasks than sparky, creative thinking.
There are also clear benefits of at least some working from home. Many companies will be able to reduce their carbon footprint through remote working, due to less commuting, lower energy use in the office and the ability to have smaller offices at lower cost, with less environmental impact. Though these benefits are at least partly offset by higher energy use at home, and the data is not entirely conclusive that remote working always reduces emissions.
Start your move back to the office... by meeting in nature
You don’t have to be in the office to begin collaborating and talking about your future. Taking your team into an outdoor, natural space allows you to come together safely, without the stress that might come with being back in the office for the first time in over a year.
Around a campfire in the woods, everyone is equal. There are no distracting screens, no reminders of old grievances and no barriers to discussion. Being able to breathe fresh air and see the horizon is naturally calming and life-affirming.
And time in nature does not only benefit your team as individuals: evidence shows that people are better able to focus their thinking, be more creative and prioritise long-term possibilities over short-term problems. People are also more likely to want to work cooperatively for the benefit of the whole team.
By coming together outdoors to talk about your future, you take the pressure away. You’re not working remotely, nor are you in the office. You’re in a safe, neutral space where everyone can feel empowered to talk and listen, and together you can work out how to do things in the next new normal.
Want to find out how we could help you create that space? At School of the Wild, we bring leaders and teams outside to help you reconnect and think differently, that leads to meaningful change in the way you work. Have a look at our outdoor team building programmes for leaders and teams or get in touch for more info.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.