2020 has become quite a year. A year full of loss yet a year full of opportunity. It is as if the universe has conspired to present us with all the things we needed to focus on, and slowed at least some of us down sufficiently that we had the space to tune in and listen.
I have begun to be asked frequently what kinds of changes and responses we are making and seeing at a workplace level at Launchpad and recently took part in a panel on this subject as part of London Tech Week and as Dan Zell of Decoded quite rightly puts it; ‘We’re all in the same storm, we’re just in completely different boats.’
Whilst many of us in the working world have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity of at least some space over the past six months, many have not been so fortunate. When we look at how the working world has shifted in that time therefore, it really is a tale of two halves.
For those who work outside of offices and in the frontline, there has been either furlough or a relentless slog throughout. My sister who is a pastry chef has experienced this relentlessness, as has my friend in construction. What they’ve also experienced is a total disregard from their industries around their well-being beyond the superficial provision of PPE. By total contrast, amongst my peers in people roles in tech businesses, we’ve doubled down on the provision of wellness related things like coaching, meditation and other tools to help folks sculpt their own resilience toolkit.
For the purposes of the remainder of this piece, I will keep the focus on my immediate vista; that of tech businesses and office environments but as a side note, I would urge those who are able to wield influence across different spheres to do so. The evolution of work can’t and should not only be a thing for half of the working world.
10 years of development in six months
What we have witnessed over the past six months has been unprecedented. We have seen the acceleration of the adoption of remote work by something like 10 years in that space of time. We are looking at many of the big players giving their teams the chance to be permanently remote, potentially saving a trillion dollars collectively in process.
According to the rather brilliant Chris Herd, CEO of Firstbase, someone who is based permanently remotely costs a business on average 10 times less in terms of full loaded costs. We invited him to come and talk to a number of business leaders from across the Launchpad community, to help us all crystallise our thinking when it comes to planning for our future work dynamics.
Aside from the obvious longer term cost savings, having the whole team working from home has had a number of more immediate positive effects, and my hope is them that some of them take root.
1. That we keep building our businesses as communities, with love at the core
Home working has seen a rise in bidirectional empathy. For years, people like me have been working with business leaders to help them find their most authentic voice, and give their teams access to who they really are. Now simply by showing up on screens within the middle of our homes and our lives, we have suddenly become real to one another in a way that you could never manufacture.
Within Launchpad and bp, we have seen and felt a rise in understanding of one another’s circumstances, and colleagues have become real humans with real challenges that we don’t need to be ashamed of. Across the working from home working world parenthood is no longer a dirty word that questions commitment, but instead a brilliant quirk and welcome delight when we get to meet one another’s people.
Suddenly see one another as whole human beings, but it is up to us as leaders to maintain and nurture that. We have to stay open and allow our people to do so.
2. That by doing so, we create the space for people to start to feel able to bring their whole selves to work
When people feel like they don’t have to hide elements of themselves, we get to see them do their best work. Hopefully by now you will have been reading more about the lived experience of Black people in our societies, and the additional cognitive load they often carry in order to try to stay safe. Whilst their experiences are unique to them, there are many other groups across our societies who bear additional cognitive burden trying to exist safely in our societies. Consider then the power that we would unleash if we were able to alleviate that burden from those humans.
The other way that home working as been supportive is that those people who index more towards introversion. It’s been easier to do the deep work we struggled to create space for in office-space-starved startups, or as Chris Herd puts it; ‘distraction factories’. Though I still standby the importance of collaboration in person as an advocate for team togetherness.
On the flip side the extrovert might in part have been satiated by video calls at first, but that quickly turned into video call fatigue for many. It is, however, going to be critical that we keep finding ways to come together in the real world, according to what the world we live in allows and that we find a way to fire up our collective creative energies together. There simply is no substitute for in person interaction, and it remains an essential agreement for how we all grow together, especially in a new business like Launchpad.
3. That we all commit to dismantling the structural oppression of Black people.
Whilst we are getting busy dismantling how we have worked before in the physical sense, it seems to me to be high time we dismantled the way we’ve worked in the invisible structures that hold some parts of our communities back.
We’re looking to build inclusion into how we help businesses to grow at Launchpad by partnering with new new diversity and inclusion collective The Wake Up Call to make sure that we collectively step into the discomfort it takes for us all to evolve. It’s never lost on me that the word evolve has love embedded in it. Coincidence? I think not.
By having a laser focus on inclusion from the beginning, we stand a real chance of creating businesses that feel good for all who sail in them. We must also commit to creating opportunity every which way we can, by seeking to remove barriers to entry and giving people the chance to step into roles that they perhaps haven’t done before. We do that by being prepared to put our own “necks” on the line by backing others. A well timed advocate can change someone’s life and hopefully, in turn, society as a whole.
4. That we find the balance between online presenteeism and productivity
Now that we’ve all lived the boom and bust of video call fatigue, my next hope is that we will find further balance around presenteeism in the working world in general. At Launchpad we gave people permission early on to find the rhythm of life that worked for them and to say no as and where they needed to.
To make that work, you have to model those behaviours as much as you can at a leadership level. The interruptions of life have become the norm for us, and we are all okay with that.
Will we really see the focus move from time as the metric to how much work is getting done, to what the output is? I’m not sure, but we are keen to test that theory at Launchpad.
5. That we find the means to support all the space folks need to build the life they always dreamed of with us
Those different boats that Dan Zell mentioned really are wide ranging. People have been challenged in different ways by the enforced work from home many of us experienced. My final hope is that the shift will provide the longer term balance that people crave.
For parents and for children, will working just some of the week in an office provide a greater opportunity to participate fully in one another’s lives? If we start to release the shackles of big city-based offices, perhaps we will benefit from being able to hire talent anywhere (tax and administrative burden permitting).
If that happens, the opportunity to get access to opportunity completely shifts and a whole new talent pool is born. There would be huge potential for people to retrain and try something new. The next question remains, what happens to cities if it does…? Whilst office workers only make up a fraction of a city’s total workforce, if they leave, let’s not forget that a lot of industry could be devastated as a direct consequence.
A gloomy but important note to leave you all on. I’m all for progressive, blue sky thinking on how the working world evolves and supports the creation of joy in the lives of the people within it, let’s just make sure that we don’t leave a tonne of our fellow humans behind.