In a two-part series, I want to explore how people’s definition of, and approach to, work is changing. For some, it’s about reconsidering how they work (discussed here). For others, it’s about what they choose to do as work (discussed next time).
There’s not going to be another year like 2020 in our lifetimes, I predict. Or maybe I just hope desperately. The impact to the world economy, the ongoing widespread health crises, the upheaval of our personal routines and definitions of normalcy . . . it’s just hard to imagine weathering an event like this ever again. But the acutely unique changes to our lives also have created the space for reflection on what we each value, in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Many of the initial changes in our lives were highly visible. They also were assumed to be temporary. But as months have turned into a year, some of the shifts are more nuanced, and possibly more permanent. That includes, I think, how we approach work. Of course, there is the literal way we have operationalised working from home, or in a more distanced way on site. But I’m talking about the nature of what we call work. How have the shifts in how we work, changed how we think about work?
The nature of what we call work has changed. And so have our attitudes.
Some of the knock-on effects of working from home have led to completely opposite conclusions. For example, many people have not had a daily commute in nearly a year. Some studies show that led to longer work days, as people get up and travel from bedroom to kitchen table and start work earlier, and “stay” at the office later. Part of that is because the normal routines that would force people out of the office are gone – you don’t need to make the 18:35 train to be home in time for dinner, or to meet friends at the pub. (Heck, you can’t even pretend you’ve got plans in the evening.) That was in the beginning, when we still shaped our days around a phantom commute.
Now, nearly a year on, normal has changed. For many of us, there are no work trips. No late nights at the office. But it also has meant a lot more up-close time with children, or partners. An opportunity to see everyday movements of their lives, and not just the highlights. That could mean how we think about work, how much of ourselves we give to it, changes for the long term. It’s not simply part and parcel of “old timers” learning they can have fully competent meetings by videoconference. It also has changed the idea that missing important parts of loved ones’ lives was simply an inevitable cost of a demanding career. The executive who had eight hours of meetings and 15-hour days, has now found their pace slowed. Many have been forced off the treadmill and are stopping to look around. It doesn’t mean leaving a career (though it may for some), but simply reconsidering what that means. It’s a mandatory reckoning with what we may have lost in a work environment that has shifted so far away from 9 to 5 and towards 24/7 connectivity. We are getting back time lost every evening we’re away on business or every morning on the tube journey into the office.
We may not want the old normal back, even if we can get it. Some organisations, like Salesforce, are already announcing long-term arrangements for working all, or part time remotely. Even ten years ago, an opportunity to work as a senior executive for a company usually meant relocating to that company’s physical headquarters. Now, it’s completely possible to work from an entirely different country. Soon, it’s likely you won’t have to be in their office at all. Employers and employees are rethinking the nature of what we call work, and how to do it differently, not only by necessity, but by choice.
We might not go back to what we were. And that’s ok.
We have all been required to take a collective breath and revisit how we fill our days. For some, it’s an affirmation that we love what we do and can’t wait to return to doing all aspects of it, including in-person meetings and conferences and sales pitches. And that’s great. For some of us, it might be the beginning of deep reflection on what we’re doing and how we’re doing…and why we’re doing it. For others, it might be an even bigger step in a new direction – the next post will discuss some observations of people really revisiting the nature of work and making a passion a profession. Those things you love to do when you’re not at the office, might have sustained you more than ever this past year. Maybe it’s time to make your hobby your day job – to be discussed.