As the world said goodbye to 2020 and all of its unwanted baggage, predictions were made about what the future of work would hold. Many thought (or hoped, rather) that we would continue working remotely. But after the second and third COVID waves hit and then tapered, that hope was lost, as many were forced to return to the office.
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Workers around the world who had already experienced a year of freedom, flexibility, and no commute stood up against this, resulting in what has been deemed “The Great resignation“.
In spite of all of its hardships, the pandemic gave workers the space to re-evaluate their careers, and with that came the realisation that happiness was more important than money, and employees would no longer tolerate dissatisfactory work conditions. According to a Stanford University study, some companies had poor policies toward employees during lockdown, doubling down on their toxic working environment prior to the pandemic. Companies expected employees to pick up the slack caused by furloughed colleagues while providing little or no support. Because of this, workers worldwide began quitting their jobs in droves, accepting pay cuts in exchange for flexibility and the freedom to choose when and where they worked. The message was clear: the future of work is choice.
The theme of 2021 seemed to be hybrid–where teams are mixed–some working in the office and some working remotely. With this new structure came new challenges…Although workers were attuned to working remotely, hybrid collaboration requires a completely different setup. Moreover, the workplace is diverse and so too are the needs of each company and individual, further complicating the process. It seemed experimentation was the way forward through this transitional phase.
Online meetings remained challenging in 2021; teams battled with asynchronous communication, and remote team building was easier said than done. In his book: A World Without Email, Cal Newport discusses how unstructured conversations on messaging apps and too many unnecessary meetings consume our time and prevent us from doing ‘focused’ work. He goes on to say that in order to be more productive we must practice more conscientious ways of communicating.
The business world also saw a boom in a “Remote First” approach — in which companies are prepared to work remotely in the event that something goes wrong. In this type of environment, employees are often given the opportunity to work from home, and all tools, databases, documents, and workflows are accessible online.
However, transitioning to “Remote First” is not easy for every company. The shift in culture can be a challenge for some who have been used to working in an office from 9 to 5 with everyone in one place. But with a little time, effort, and thought, the kinks will get worked out.
Virtual team building is another area that caused some headaches over the year. Many had difficulty figuring out how to build teams online the same as in-person, only to discover that in-person team building doesn’t directly translate. And with so many online meetings, people weren’t excited about joining another zoom session. What we now know is that the best way to team build on virtual teams is to incorporate it into our daily activities, such as an icebreaker at the start of a meeting, daily check-ins, and one-on-one time.
The most important thing we’ve learned about team building is that having fun together doesn’t always imply collaborating well together. The core of team building comes from understanding each other’s intrinsic motivations — having an awareness of “why” our colleagues come to work. For some people, it’s solving a challenging problem. For others, it’s about who they work with. And still, for others, it’s just a job.
Designing a workplace around people’s intrinsic motivation is crucial to having a high-performing team. A great team-building activity on this topic is Moving Motivators by Management 3.0.
On the Horizon for 2022…
Our biggest takeaway from 2021 is that people want a flexible work structure. Because of this, hybrid offices will most likely continue, however, attention will be shifted to remote leadership, namely the differences between leading remote teams vs. in-person teams.
Even after two years of working online, many teams have not experienced the full benefits of working remotely. There needs to be significant advancements in virtual meetings in order to make them more interactive and engaging. Workflows and the way we structure our days must also be improved in order to be more productive and sustainable. The good news is, it’s all possible to attain.
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