It’s perhaps part of the human condition to enjoy a moan.
And, in fairness, there’s been a lot to moan about in the past year.
This certainly applies to work.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the bad things caused by ongoing remote working: work/life balance going out the window, working hours soaring (you’re probably doing 4 days worth of unpaid overtime a month), zoombies - aka that dead-eyed stare you get from yet another video meeting.
So, as things in the UK start to return to something like normal (touch wood, touch wood, TOUCH WOOD), we thought it was time to recognise the ways our working lives have changed for the better in the past year.
No meeting Days
In response to the fact that some employees are now in so many meetings that they don’t have time to pee, let alone work, many organisations have responded with a ban on internal meetings on certain days. Considering that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after an interruption, we hope that this is one that is here to stay.
While nothing can replace real life interactions, sometimes video calls are just more convenient. Now that even Granny knows how to put herself on mute, video calls have become an everyday part of life - and will hopefully remain commonplace to facilitate things like remote working and interviews where candidates live in a different part of the country.
Normalising family life
According to research by Microsoft, 1 in 5 employees report that they have met a colleague’s family or pets virtually during the past year.
While obviously working in the family home has often been less than ideal (cut to any of the many, many videos of parents being interrupted and dealing with it with various degrees of aplomb), it has allowed us to see another side of people’s lives and perhaps be more sympathetic to the stresses and strains they’ve been dealing with.
Guidelines around emailing
France made headlines in 2016 by giving employees the “right to disconnect” where they are not expected to check or respond to emails outside working hours.
This month Ireland followed suit, while there’s talk of such a law being adopted in the UK - in both cases this has been motivated by concerns around people not disconnecting from work during lockdown.
Meanwhile individual organisations have been working to set more guidelines around emailing or even discouraging emailing on certain days.
Now that people are working from home, it’s easier (and sometimes necessary) to adopt other forms of flexible working. In many cases companies have had to adopt flexitime policies to accommodate parents who need to take an hour or two in the afternoon to make sure the little darlings aren’t murdering each other.
But it’s not just parents. As the boundaries between work and life have blurred, many have seen the appeal of working at a time that suits them, adopting flexible schedules or working compressed hours to have a longer weekend. As many people have taken the past year to reassess what’s important to them, it seems like a renewed focus on life outside work might be the order of the day.
Judged on output, not hours worked
There’s a couple of ways to check if people are working their contracted hours while working remotely. You can go all Big Brother and install creepy surveillance software on their device. You can micromanage to the extent that you are calling them every 20 mins. Or...you can just let them get on with it.
Most managers have opted for the last option and this has meant that employees are now being assessed on the work they actually produce, rather than how many hours their bum is sat on a desk chair.
Better communication from managers
The Economist argues that a lot of managers when working in the office just relied on osmosis for employees to understand what they needed to do; as long as one person knew what the boss expected, they could be relied upon to spread the word.
Now that people have been working remotely, managers have to be far more intentional with their communications and place more trust in tools that facilitate communication and collaboration. Welcome to the 21st century folks!
A more open emotional culture
During the last year, 1 in 6 people say they have cried with a colleague. It seems strange that at a time when we are further apart, we should be more emotionally open. But with work being one of the only things to have kept going, it makes sense that we’d open up more to our colleagues.
As people have seen into their coworkers’ homes, we’ve become more open. Hopefully that will lead to working cultures where people feel more confident bringing their whole selves to work. After all, once you’ve seen that your colleague’s pants drying in the background of the call, is there any going back?
Less business travel
The last year has meant business travel has collapsed completely - and many have been surprised by what can be achieved over the internet.
While there will always be a place for face-to-face discussions, less best travel must be a good thing, both for the environment and for the perennial business traveler who probably already has enough mini bottles of shampoo to last a lifetime.
An appreciation of in-person contact
Finally, this last year has certainly made us appreciative of how lucky we are to be able to do things like “go somewhere that isn’t your home and have people bring you food” and “spend 2 hours in a darkened room watching a 30 foot tall Scarlett Johansson kick bad guys in the face”.
But perhaps the thing we’ll remain most grateful for is being able to meet in person. How smoothly a conversation goes when you don’t have to deal with a delay! How easy it is to bounce ideas off each other when you aren’t worrying about how your nose hair looks!
Let’s hope we remember how lucky we are when the time comes to meet our colleagues again.
Or we could just go back to moaning.