Workplace Lessons Learned from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that business as usual is no longer business as usual and has forced us to reevaluate how we manage our teams and support our customers. Below are some lessons I have learned in my role at The NOW Network (they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other NOW leadership 😊 ).

 

Productivity has not suffered, but some feeling of connectedness has

Now, I already knew that productivity would not suffer by working from home. My own personal experience was that I get more done at home because there are less interruptions. During the pandemic the product development team is chugging right along. Prior to the pandemic we allowed people to choose when they worked from home and when from the office. Most people would be in the office 3 – 4 days a week and work from home 1 – 2. We had one day that was mandatory for everyone to be in the office so that we could plan larger meetings. So, we already had the systems in place to support work from home. What we learned though was the value in the little interactions that keep people feeling connected to their co-workers. The mentioning of things in the kitchen that keeps people ‘in the know’. The camaraderie that comes from being around each other when solving problems.

We did attempt to replace this with Zoom happy hours and online chats. However, those often got a bit awkward and didn’t quite fill that void. While our slack channel can get quite chatty it still lacks as a replacement for sitting with your team at least some of the time.

There are good online tools available if you take the time to go look for them

We generally had good tools for working from home prior to the pandemic and I’m glad we didn’t need to make those investments or learn those tools when we moved to solely working from home. However, we also found some weak points, namely in real-time collaboration tools such as whiteboard software. So, we had to make a few modifications and were amazed at some of the options out there for a variety of problems. We need to learn this lesson and every so often do a check to see if we are using the right tools or using the tools we have to their potential.

Most meetings can be replaced

When it’s harder to meet in person, you rethink whether a meeting is needed. Many issues that would have been a meeting before are now a discussion thread in Slack. This takes up less time and allows people to choose when to engage. On the flip side, there are discussions that should have been meetings. When we return to the office we need to really think about whether a meeting is needed or will a discussion thread work. And stop defaulting meetings to 1 hour just because it’s the calendar default. How much time is really needed? How can we tighten the agenda?

People shift to different hours

At least for my team, without strict meeting time requirements, people’s work hours have shifted – mostly later. The developers who were working 9:00am – 6:00pm before are now working 11:00am – 8:00pm. A couple of developers are working evenings and overnight. I’m also seeing that when they work when it is comfortable for them, they are more productive. Jira tickets move statuses faster and they have more creative ideas to solve problems. So, even if we go back to the office, I imagine we’ll see different work hours than before.

We underestimate the toll of commuting on people

Without the 2+ hours of commute time a day people work a bit longer and are happier. There is a stress from sitting in traffic that is alleviated by just walking to the next room to work. Now, not everyone had a long commute before, but the ones that did tell me how much better they feel without sitting in a car for hours a day. I am not sure that people will ever want to go back to 5 days a week of commuting.

 

So, what will we take from these lessons? For me, I don’t see us returning to 90% working from the office. I see people returning about twice a week and working from home the other days. I see the need for Slack or other chat tools remaining high and the number of meetings remaining low. I see people hesitant to return to long commutes and working hours that don’t align to their natural body clocks. I see a happier work team when things return to the new business as usual.

 

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