I’m definitely detecting a mood change. I’ve had a dozen or so conversations over the last 10 days and there’s definitely signs of people coming out of the ‘mad panic adjustment’ phase and, soberly and sensibly, looking at potentially weeks of a whole new work lifestyle. Up to now, it appears that morale and output remain high across the professional services firms I’ve spoken to as we dig in and cope with the crisis with humour and resolve.
But there are concerns for the immediate future. Stripped of the support structures, social networking and physical proximity that invisibly fuel so much of practice life and popular mood (and I guess it’s the same for most traditionally headquartered organisations), how exactly are people going to stay connected and committed to the cause? At the moment, most of the day is taken up with bi-directional working between colleagues and clients, and work is boundaried by the opening and closing of the laptop lid. There’s not a lot of time or opportunity for the person behind the worker to feel part of something other than their workstream.
But what if there was something always there for you beyond the workstream? Something forged in your company values? What if you had the means to sit back on the sofa and check out the latest firm news and updates, chew the fat with colleagues, join in your team’s virtual drinks night, book onto a training webinar, get stuck into that ideation session that’s caught your eye, fill in that survey you’ve been asked to do? Because now suddenly you have something else – a company-shaped community space that keeps you inside its (secure) digital walls, reminds you that you are still truly part of something, and that that something is worth it.
Preserving performance and people
Because the risk is that without efforts to put this metaphorical arm around someone, it all gets too hard – for everyone, from the flat-sharing London associate who is improvising a desk with an ironing board to the partner with a young family and two dogs who are competing enthusiastically for his attention all day! If morale drops, output drops; if attitudes slide, quality can go the same way; plus the huge work disconnection coupled with the massive social dislocation will inevitably put pressure on well-being and mental health.
The firms I’ve been talking to are taking action; they feel they must, not just to preserve performance and people for the here and now, although that is the primary catalyst for change. But they are also looking to the future when we return from this temporary normal to a version of our old normal. In one sense, this crisis has shone a harsh light on how few fully-fledged strategies and frameworks there are in place to properly reach, connect and support workforces.
And don’t point to some aged static intranet as a solution – is that on hand to offer reassurance at 11pm? Is it a channel that can get you help when it’s needed? Can you talk to your work mates through it? Is it pinging people’s phones with good news and positive updates? Is it saying thank you for an amazing effort in trying circumstances? Is it socialising feel-good team initiatives, like that fund-raising virtual cycle ride between your offices? Is it asking your staff for opinions and feedback? Is it keeping your learning and development going with personalised courses you can consume on-demand? Is it helping you analyse just what the mood is at the moment? Is it a truly active companion for your staff, which brings the firm to them while they can’t go to the firm?
Doubt it. It’s not what intranets were designed for. Email doesn't work either, and Teams is for your work projects, not your people. It doesn't have the structure or the functionality to work that way. So what to do? How do you get your staff to feel engaged, connected, a vital and valued part of the team, who, when this is all over, will repay your efforts with even greater commitment and loyalty and praise? Those that are taking action are doing the obvious – and that’s getting the right tool for the job. What's worrying is that there are those who, even in normal times, wouldn't consider this an essential tool, more of a nice-to-have.
The optics of that don’t look great at the best of times, and today? A high risk of the staff mood turning ugly, I’d say.