Are you the Titanic’s orchestra in this Pandemic?

Publish date7 March 2022

Eelco Voogd voices his concerns on the current home working situation.

Until the fat lady sings

Everybody recognizes that movie scene in the Titanic where the orchestra just keeps on playing while the ship goes under. This image came to mind when I was thinking about the current home situation for many employees. I am worried about the fact that we have already been working from home for over more than a year and some of the larger organizations are still not making headway in returning to the office until after the summer. And believe me, or not if you will, the effects still remain underestimated. It’s the simple fact that managers have so many people within their team whilst all facing the same kind of issues at home. Being at home has tremendously increased the threshold to simply interact with each other as colleagues, from a glance and a compliment to just some smalltalk at the coffee corner.

Young professionals can’t reach their potential

Finding the balance between working from home.

To me the fact remains that it’s still the responsibility of the organization to act on this in a way that lowers the social threshold. Don’t be the orchestra that keeps playing while the whole ship is slowly sinking by think that e.g. the scorecard results remain a good indicator of the psychological condition of the entire organization.

From our own research results, we know that one of the biggest problems is the lack of serendipitous meetings, social interactions, and the support of that friendly colleague when resolving matters at work. Next to that we seem to be most distracted at home by the conversations of others. These problems remain more short-term. The long-term effects however remain underestimated and are believed to have a more profound impact.

I have noticed that quite a few board of directors and managers are now considering, having their people working from home for multiple days after the pandemic. Resulting in a similar management expectation around cutting square meters/feet and ultimately costs, as seen with the transition to ‘activity-based working’. We do have to realise there is a huge difference between then and now. With ABW people are sharing desks in the office environment but now they are sharing their own home environment. With ABW more variety of workspaces were introduced to the work environment. Now working multiple days from home it can easily turn into ‘here is a laptop stand, good luck!’. Therefore this calls for a more thorough analysis of the specific needs of everyone at home.

What can be the effects of working from home for multiple days?

Lose sight of people

We’re not talking about the desire of having people work in the office, just to know there physically present. Although unfortunately that is still often the case. No, losing sight is just about all the non-verbal communication and micro meetings that one can have, while physically being present. It is one of the most effective ways to keep people and their teams happy, healthy, and motivated.

Young professionals can’t reach their potential

Work for younger employees means also a place to start learning about company structure, attitude, and certain behaviours that they eventually can leverage in their professional lives. And let’s not forget about for example; them bonding with other colleagues of their own age that ultimately make them ‘class of ….’, serendipitous interactions and even introductions by more networked colleagues. This all can thrive better when physically being in the same space and environment. And when you are young, failure is an important part of it and especially getting on your feet and receiving constructive feedback works better with other people and colleagues around. Online this all takes more effort, time and management to reach that same level of interaction.

Health and mobility

It’s a given we all exercise less and less. Everybody working from home does not help as all physical activity to get to work and you do at work is minimised. You just don’t move around as much as you would in an office environment. Less walking to different meeting rooms, the company restaurant and even the coffee machine. It all happens within a few square meters at home now. It takes more personal discipline to keep fit at home. According to the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) people have been living a less healthy lifestyle than before. You can’t for example light a cigarette in the office but you can when sitting at home. The home environment is simply under less scrutiny by professionals than the office environment.

This creates opportunity for creative ideas and solutions…

In short, working from home for an even longer period of time will have a more profound impact on changes in the physical and mental health of people and should not be underestimated. The fact that we are all working for an organization (at home) means that this needs to become a shared responsibility of the organization and the employee despite legalities. Therefore this creates opportunity for creative ideas and solutions to support health, mobility, career development and social contact within the workplace.

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