New normal is a unique opportunity to rethink why and how we work
July 19, 2022
Two years ago I was a manager in trouble. My team who had once been motivated, inspired and happy had suddenly become dead behind the eyes. They were burned out and dejected. Worse still many of them were quitting (often with no job to go to). It would certainly be possible for me to say ‘this is due to the company, this isn’t my fault’ or ‘the economy is suffering and investors are worried about our business’ but to be honest I knew that we’d had bad times before and this time I had to bear the responsibility that something was different. I wanted to find a book that would help me. Like a recipe book that would tell me to do a little of this, and a little of that to get my team inspired again.
What I discovered is that there are forests worth of academic papers printed of workplace research, but it never reaches people who are doing jobs in the real world.
The chapter about laughter – and the second section of the book about Sync is most important to me – it’s a reminder that we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Our experience of work is shaped by the relationships we forge with others – our emotional connection with other souls. We’ve not worker droids, the humanity of our jobs is what defines us as better than just merely performing tasks.
Clearly work has transformed more in 2020 than ever before in a single year. But it’s worth us reflecting a little on the past. The original theories of management were styled Taylorism, named after Frederick Taylor. Taylorism focussed on the challenge that workers often didn’t seem to be working as hard as they were capable.
The underpinning notion was one of supervision – workers were innately slackers who needed to be monitored. In hindsight there was more than a degree of Taylorism to the way that we used the office. We arranged our teams around us and supervised that they looked busy. Taylorism was a sorry weakness that many of us reverted to, a kneejerk that the natural state of human behaviour is taking the piss.
Interestingly as the remote working experiment went on, those untrusting managers’ perspectives started to look less and less attuned to the moment in time. Of course, even working remotely Taylorism has persisted. If you’re one of the many who find yourself on 30 hours of video calls a week you might ask whether you need to see people working to believe they are working.
The truth is that we will never go back to the way we worked in February 2020. The firms that try to bring it back will find the best workers won’t want to join them and will look to work somewhere more enlightened. The managers who can’t adapt will find that they are left behind. It might feel strange for us to accept that the past is gone for good but adapting quickly is the best thing that any of us can do right now.
Don’t try to bring the past back. Challenge yourself to think what work needs to look like to people who use Whatsapp to communicate (rather than the phone and email), to people who are able to process electronic communication quickly. Invent something better – there are hundreds of potential ways to make work more interesting, more imaginative and more colourful if you start with a blank sheet of paper.
I am writing a book about identity and how we form groups. Right now we’ve entered a stage of work where we are optimising for productivity – trying to get our jobs done well while working remotely. But the organisations that succeed will be the ones that form tribes of tightly bonded people – who feel passionately connected to each other and inspired to work hard for each other.
Many thanks Bertrand
The book: The Joy of Work, Bruce Daisley, Ramdom House Business Book, 2020.