Remote or home working has been a great solution during these COVID-19 pandemic times. Governments have been able to lock us down easily thanks to modern communication technologies. Consider what could have happened if the pandemic had taken place 15 years ago – when internet communication was in its infancy.
Surely, the confinement would have been softer, and the pandemic would have lasted longer leading to more sickness and mortality.
That being said, we begin to glimpse the end of this nightmare and the question is – now what? What do we do with remote working? We keep it as it is now, we organize it and open the offices, and we would meet again.
The corporate culture that many organizations were implementing before the lockdown has reached this point, and now – how are we going to maintain and promote it?
Some wise people say that we may have returned to the origin before the industrial revolution – when everyone worked from home. For instance, at that time, young men in the pharmacies slept in a room behind the storefront.
Even in the industrial age, people still worked from their homes. In Catalonia, we have a clear example in the textile sector, which may still be happening in certain parts of the world. Looms in private homes produced the fabrics and clothing. Everything that could be done in small domestic workshops, was done.
How important was the corporate culture back then? How could you create a bond and a sense of belonging? Everything was individual, there were no teams. The relationship was mainly money per piece made, quantities, and expected quality. Workers were autonomous. They did not know each other, or barely know each other, if they belonged to the same community. Companies did not have the need for them to meet. Each worker had his or her values and purpose without prejudice to those that the company could or could not have.
Nowadays, companies work on establishing a Business Culture that ties and unite workers to the organization, having a sense of belonging. A number of business gurus are claiming the ease and feasibility to achieve business goals when the organization lives a deeply rooted culture.
And my question remains the same – and now, what is going to happen? Are we going to maintain remote working? Are we going to go back to the offices? A combination of both?
Online connections are a parody to communication. True communication takes place when people meet. Verbal and gestural language complement each other which leads to more empathy and the understanding of each other.
For instance, after months and perhaps years of difficult working relationships over the phone between supplier and customer, relationships were softened when there was an opportunity to bring the relevant people together. As soon as they met and spoke directly with each other, they got to know and had time to explain each other’s limitations in their work and came to understand each other without compromising the excellence required. Of course, will was needed to reach such point.
As a personal example – I have recently installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of my home. All the negotiations, information, details, doubts and problems that have arisen have been addressed via email. Not even an online conversation, not even the same person answering to my queries. I would have preferred to speak with a person, who had a deep understanding of my case, in order to address my concerns and questions. Surely, each person who responded to my different queries were not in the same place – they all worked from their homes. They probably had meetings to bring clients’ demands to the attention of other co-workers.
Some may call me «old-fashioned». No digitally written elements can replace a real conversation. We claim the effectiveness and/or efficiency when communicating exclusively via online means. However, I have my doubts about it – if we consider the need of human beings to communicate.
If we think about “value for the customer”, which in a given product or service also includes the expected customer service.
All the above is relevant to evaluate what we are going to do with remote working. How companies are going to maintain the corporate culture with a goal and values that favor a bond and sense of belonging to the company? How are teams going to work? How are decisions going to be made? Of course, it will be another paradigm in which it will be necessary to develop new ideas and tools to solve challenges.
It will be necessary to ensure that teams meet, and people personally know each other– setting limits to online communication routines. For instance, limits on using infinite email CC to protect yourself and avoid responsibilities – “I had already sent this to you by email”.
A proper meeting schedule – daily, weekly and monthly – alternating face-to-face with online meetings using open video may help decision-making, accountability and individual responsibilities.
Today, there is an exhaustion of online means, accentuated by the difficulty of moving and alternating different spaces and moments. We communicate online for either work or personal matters. This exhaustion can cause a difficult return to the offices that may be cushioned over time.
Experiencing the business culture is mostly face-to-face. The values, the purpose and the long-term audacious goal must be lived, discussed, and internalized in the various activities and decision-making of a company. All this has more depth when it is face-to-face – favoring ties with the other and increasing the sense of belonging to a group to achieve something in this world.
Let’s avoid falling into individualism – each one in his home with work and economic transactions without further relation. It lasted what it lasted. For instance, in textiles, once it was possible to subcontract in lower-cost regions, the entire system collapsed. Some will say that these are things of modernity. We surely want to see it that way, because it did not evolve in any other way either. Who was prepared and preparing for it? Who thought this was going to happen so suddenly?
The same happened in many industrial sectors. If we do not alert and take measures, it will also happen, and soon, in the IT sector.
We are on time. Thanks to online communication tools, we can work remotely. However, let’s not forget to get to know each other, share, live a corporate culture with values, purpose and an audacious goal that links us to our colleagues and strengthens our sense of belonging to the organization.
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