The New Normal at Work

The year is 2021. Bear with me, hear, as there’s something to say. Thanks to a type of Coronavirus, our entire world has changed since our “ignorance-is-bliss” (aka “It-could-never-happen-here”) time until it hit us.

Many of us worked in offices others behind counters, some among the general public (LEOs, EMTs, truck drivers, et al), while many of us worked in offices. For many, their workspace was a cubicle in a large office building. My own was split between a home office and customers’ conference rooms or data centers/security operations centers.

The point is that Covid-19 changed all that. For a time, we all went into virtual bunkers. We were forced “underground”, so to speak, and that’s for the fortunate ones who could. Meaning, there were a lot of people, such as those who worked among the general public, who simply couldn’t work. For them, this was a terrifying time during which many couldn’t pay their rent, mortgages, car payments, and so on. I don’t say this to revisit a scary time or to make you feel bad if you, like myself, were one of the fortunate. You know, to work through most, or all, of the pandemic. I say it to set the stage for how things have changed forever, as we emerge from our “bunkers”.

Managers used to be able to walk along the sales floor to verify that activity was happening as expected. Now your manager might be dozens or even thousands of miles away, unable to monitor you in the same fashion. A new “normal” is at work.

I am fortunate to often work with those from diverse countries and very different cultures. So, shifting the focus from work, and what is “normal” therein, to human cultures, that cultural influence begins to make sense. Some cultures are highly focused on standards, “our way” of doing things. The process, the accepted procedure, is everything. So much so that, while it can ensure a high level of consistency, can also limit the results. Other cultures with which I’ve worked approach it from the opposite direction–either having no process or making it secondary to the result. As with much in these articles, it isn’t my place to argue which is better, if indeed such an argument could be made, sans context.

The point is that a procedural approach is simple to manage when the work hierarchy has absolute visibility into the employee’s actions. If the employee is sitting at a desk by 9AM, that’s easy to verify. Even if they haven’t yet logged into their computer, a quick glance at the employee’s desk can verify that they are following procedure. There are ways to verify such a thing for remote employees, such as capturing computer log-in time, using the camera to take a snapshot of the employee, and so forth. Though it may involve much more work on the part of the Information Technology department.

A culture which focuses on results more than process has it easier. Is the assigned work completed by the appointed time, yes or no? Such a company might not even care which hours the employee kept, so long as the result is delivered.

Naturally, most organizations find themselves somewhere between those extremes. I’ve worked with companies that had procedures, though an error or flaw in them could be easily identified, and when brought to a supervisor’s attention (or dropped in the virtual “Suggestions” box), the procedure could be assessed. Then when a flaw was verified, either corrected or the procedure itself could be replaced. To a more rigid organization, flaws in a process often exist long after a sharp employee notices them.

In this continually-improving, hyper-competitive business landscape, I propose that conscious evolution would be wise, but then my own culture promotes such thinking.

Though evolution is driven by appropriateness to task. Meaning if two types of birds exist along a white sand coastline, each with the same predator to evade, the one that blends into that background is more apt to survive. A white bird against a white sand background will be harder to spot than a red one. Predators will see and eat the red birds more often, potentially killing all of them off. In the meantime, the white birds will continue to multiply and in time, those red birds may not exist in that environment. This takes a good deal of time in nature, but it’s verifiable. In the same way, dark-colored animals will be better camouflaged in a dark forest than would white varieties. You know the rest as that scenario plays out, no matter the circumstances.

In our discussion, that means the companies that learn to utilize a post-pandemic, “new-normal” workforce, will prosper more than will the older guard companies that focus on seeing the employee sitting at that desk.

Copyright © 2021 Chris Gingolph

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