COVID-19 brought many horrors to our door, and as I write this blog it still ravages parts of the US, Brazil, South Africa and India. It also threatens a second wave in China and Europe. When we beat it, and we will, it will have changed many things. I hope that it will have brought communities closer and made people appreciate what they have. I also hope that, having witnessed the mortality rates in BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities far outstrip the rates in white communities, we will address the inequality that pervades our societies.
The change I want to talk about is the change we have made to how we work. Those that know me, know that I am passionate about creating a more flexible workplace where people are more trusted and can get a better work/life balance. I want people to be able to better control and influence how they work. I believe that work should be what people do, not where they do it.
The lock-down has smashed the preconceptions that even I had about who could work remotely and who had to be tethered to a physical workspace due to IT considerations such as servers and workstations. Rather than seeing the technology as the reason to restrict flexibility, we have been able to use it as the catalyst to create flexibility. We have gone through an anthropological shift that would have taken more than 10 years to happen normally. A year ago, traditional managers would have raised an eyebrow when an employment candidate asked about flexible working. Now they raise a glass to it!
The fact that most businesses, in the same line of work as Burrows, have been able to be as productive if not more so when working remotely has forced a management mind-shift away from Presenteeism, towards Productivity. Bryan Miles describes it perfectly, in his book Virtual Culture, when he writes that ‘visibility is a dying currency’. In the book Bryan goes on to extol the virtues of a completely virtual organisation. In this organisation the company does not have to bear the cost burden of a physical building and the employee is free of the monetary and time-wasting burden of the commute. For me, this is may be too many steps in one go.
I see the near future as a more mixed, more fluid working arrangement, where the building is a tool that workers use alongside a laptop, mobile phone or high-end workstation. I say this because I do believe that there are some things that are still best done in person.
Sometimes collaboration for brainstorming, problem solving, or project initiation/milestone reviews are better served by getting the team together. Zoom and Teams video calls are very useful and can cover so many BAU topics. However, if not everyone has a webcam you are already excluding some people. Body language is key to a presenter to check that their message has got across or that the audience is engaged (I recently had to pitch to a NYC ad agency and all three members of the creative team in NYC had their cameras and mics switched off, ….methinks they weren’t that engaged).
Today, so much learning is online via You Tube videos and TED talk. However, there are still some elements of learning that are best received in person. People best receive learning in one of four different forms; Visual (show me a picture), Auditory (tell me), Read/Write (let me read it) or Kinetic (actual do it). The approach of teaching by VARK is used across numerous different sectors from Sport to Science. Different people learn differently. In a creative industry some learning is best delivered by sitting with someone and being shown. We are an apprenticeship industry and our more junior guys need to be directly influenced by their more senior counterparts, face to face.
The third, and for me most important reason for my business to still have time together, is cultural. If you have read some of my other blogs you will know that the three things I promise my staff are that they will work hard, they will growth and they will have fun. The culture of Burrows is extremely important to me and I have worked, with my Leadership Team, to drive the right culture through the business. I do believe that culture is about a shared vision and not a shared building. However, meeting up, catching up and having fun are still the biggest reasons that we need a fluid and flexible working arrangement. Hell, It’s the reason I work!