You are not everybody
There are certain things that seem to inflame passions in a “if you are not with us, you are against us” way.
Brexit. Herd immunity. Your favourite Bond.
And daring to say that the “new normal” of being away from the office is anything other than blissfully liberating.
I have seen vitriolic attacks on LinkedIn and Twitter unleashed against people who casually remarked they missed the office: their colleagues, having to actually leave the house, the stationery cupboard. Whatever.
I watched – with morbid fascination – an entirely pointless LinkedIn comment feud span almost two weeks between the Montagues (who uphold the Glory of Working from Home and celebrate the freedom it brings) and the Capulets (who dared say they are personally not that crazy about it).
The thing that was amazing (not in a good way) about these conversations was the absolute need of the Motangues to have their view of the world not just respected but validated as universal.
Well I have news for you buddy: you are not everybody. What works for you, doesn’t work for everybody. Your preference, won’t suit everybody.
And the fact that you so desperately need it to, may be one of the reasons why we need to go back to the office.
Before I proceed, let me put my cards on the table.
I love not commuting.
I love being able to get my head down to actually work with no interruptions.
I find it a huge relief not to have to align diaries with the boiler guy and the delivery guy as if I am planning a military operation. Tomorrow morning? Sure, come on over.
I enjoy making my own lunch. Getting enough sleep.
I miss my team and colleagues and clients.
I miss the motion and movement of real life.
I miss the variety and diversity of visual cures and emotions a normal day used to bring. From your book on your commute to the news your colleague shared in the lift, your lunch held awkwardly in one hand as you are getting your security passes ready with the other.
But more fundamentally, I miss the thing I can’t prove is not there.
Still, I feel its absence and I can point to a myriad of things that wouldn’t have happened if we had been in the office. What I can’t point out is what didn’t happen. Because it didn’t.
I am referring to…
Contract negotiations that got a lot harder because you can’t have a heart-to-heart over Zoom. You can’t grab a coffee or go for a walk. You can’t have an informal chat with each of your ten stakeholders before the big meeting.
The tension between two team members that you missed because you are not in the office, observing everything and picking up a disturbance in the Force. You only see what happens on your 30-min Zoom calls or someone chooses to tell you.
The entirely idiotic management decision that happened in the echo chamber of a manager only speaking to their two chosen colleagues – their favourites or the ones they share the most meetings with – killing the tree they had assumed had no forest around it because they hadn’t allowed each other to look up and take in the landscape between calls.
Productivity may be up. But what about creativity?
What about serendipity?
The idea that transforms your product that came about when you were chatting to a colleague about something entirely different and between a laugh and a jibe you went “hold on a second”.
What about complexity?
I had three CEOs of companies of varying sizes say to me over the last month that they are reducing the things their company is doing and they are personally doing, not because of lack of resources or a fear of runway depletion, but because “you cannot juggle complexity over Zoom”.
That really gave me pause.
And I reflected.
And it is true.
A lot of what you manage as a manager is not a project, a meeting, a sequence of calls. It is a set of fine calibrations that, if done well, are invisible. But with the “engine” that is your work obscured by distance, you can’t calibrate by listening to the humming of its moving parts. You have to actively probe, assess, measure and intervene either before you are needed or after. But never as you are needed. Because by the time you are called in, things have escalated.
You can still fix. But something was missed.
You can still manage a business that way.
But it is not enough and it lacks subtlety and you will inevitably either over-indulge or under-index. Not everything is a project. Not everything carries a KPI. What do you do with those other things when zoom and email and google docs are all you have?
You still do these things.
They just get harder.
They get done less well.
Sometimes they don’t get done at all.
And there’s more.
I was speaking to someone I rate as a professional and a human. She is a headhunter by profession and I don’t think she said this lightly. I was rambling about the conflicting emotions I have about this remoteness and the desperation I see in folks to have everyone fall in line and agree that all is well and we have been given a gift, perversely, mid-pandemic.
And she observed that the industry is not hiring youngsters at the moment.
And actually youngsters have been the hardest hit by redundancies and furloughs.
Because it is extremely hard to train new folks remotely. And extremely hard to supervise without micromanaging. And because business imperatives are hard enough in this climate without the added stress of working out how to make interns and first-jobbers value-generating for a business, it is easier to give yourself one less problem to solve.
She was not being cynical, just observing a trend.
And she was profoundly aware of what it all means.
For a generation that is already burdened with financial complexity that makes home ownership and a debt-free existence a pipe dream in most societies we would consider as falling under advanced capitalism.
All I am saying is, before you post another triumphant article about the liberation of working from home, the cost saving of not having an office, the time you got back now you are not commuting and the joy of eating lunch with your partner, remember you are not everybody.
Some feel lonely and isolated because they don’t have a partner to eat lunch with and the office was a large part of their sociability.
Some don’t have the space to work, living in cramped conditions.
Some feel hamstrung in doing their job because creativity, interaction, brainstorming and relationships were part of how they operate and do their best. And now they are starved of their particular oxygen.
And some, belong to a generation that is getting hit hard by this, knocked a bit further back on their uphill struggle to a financial independence that is getting harder and harder for each successive batch of newly minted citizens.
It is my personal view that we are all missing out on a lot, often hard to measure, if we don’t interact face-to-face.
It is my personal view that the tools we have are great, but inadequate.
It is my personal view that the intransigence of the position of “everybody knows” and the outright dismissal of disagreement is a human urge, for sure, but one exacerbated by our Zoom-centric, fragmented, time-boxed interactions that allow for much less fluidity and diversity of view.
All that is my view and you are welcome to disagree with it.
But it is a fact that you are not everybody.
And when the world goes back to normal – if it ever does – pushing your preference as established wisdom will not just leave a lot of value on the table through the serendipity that will never be, it will not only further discombobulate and isolate some of us who prefer a working day that is a little different to yours, but it may continue disenfranchising an entire generation who will one day be called upon to pay your pension and your preferences will momentarily align then, perhaps.
But it may be a little late then to realise you are not everybody and your preference in all things is no more than that.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!