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This blog post is long overdue. I was intending to get it published in the Spring, but I’ve been so busy at the coal face, I’ve not had time until now.

I’ve made time! It seems like there is a real pace to work at the moment, across my clients, whatever sector they are working in. Everyone is head down at the coal face. That leaves limited time for thinking and strategizing.

Don’t get me wrong, being busy is great. But it has led me to question are we still achieving what we want to, or are we in danger of being busy fools?

I think it’s really important to take a step back, to step out of the day to day and consider the new business landscape. The pandemic has changed peoples’ attitudes towards work and particularly towards their employers. Leaders must take the time to refocus and consider their approach to their employees as individuals, with individual needs, dreams and priorities.

Working from home has blurred the lines between home and work lives.  It has also made us take a long hard look at what we value about work and how we value our workforce.

I’m sensing there’s a need to find a balance between peoples changing attitudes towards work and their ability to do their job effectively. Recent headlines in the news highlighted that people were unable to secure driving licenses and passports, which has stopped them from being able to work. I know from my own experience that DVLA customer service was nonexistent, and the phone lines continue to be unanswered.

It’s difficult when you get different departments in the same organisation having more or less flexible approaches to how people work. If there is no consistency people compare job roles with each other. Essentially, staff have to be able to perform, whether they are at work or at home. They need the right technology to enable them to do their job and the skill set to be able to perform to their best.

Elon Musk took a direct approach with cross-company policy recently. He identified inconsistencies across Tesla and SpaceX, where office staff had been working from home and factory workers in China were sleeping in the factories to ensure the job got done. According to The New York Times Musk said in two separate emails to his staff that people must show up for at least 40 hours per week in a main Tesla office. “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned”.

Musk told staff: “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” Musk said in the first email, according to Electrek “This is less than we ask of factory workers.”

Would I adopt this approach if I were in his shoes? Whilst I don’t agree with the aggressive tone of his emails, I have sympathy with their content. Musk is known for his intense work ethic and his high expectations of his workers.  

From a mediation perspective, when relationships become more strained, virtual working can exacerbate the situation. Recently someone said to me that we have become “too digitalised”; we forget that we are human and it’s easy to let a Zoom meeting spiral out of control, particularly if there is a loud dissenting voice. It’s hard to read the room and others cannot interject. Everyone leaves the call feeling defensive and demotivated. In more difficult situations where colleagues are in conflict, the isolation and digitalisation of virtual working means that people can dwell on things too much, without considering or hearing other people’s perspectives and they can become very polarised.

Face to face meetings play an important part in this but sometimes it’s difficult to get people to meet. It’s easier for them to stick to their entrenched position, in front of a camera rather than feel the emotion in the room and empathise.

So, should we all head back to the office and if staff refuse, we take the Elon Musk “staff can go and pretend to work somewhere else” approach? Well, with the current labour shortage and the potential of a general strike looming, that just isn’t an option.  Leaders need to work with managers and staff to ensure there is a balanced, considered approach as we move forward. Leaders need to look up and take the time to think this through. Now is the time to look away from the coal face. You need to evaluate how your working environment is going to operate and what expectations you have of your staff.

If you need help, give me a call and we can meet for a coffee. Face to face, in person, with no mics on mute and no issues with bandwidth!