Episode 14: What We Should Change In The Post-Pandemic “Normal”
Even as the COVID-19 crisis continues, we are already looking to what happens post-pandemic. Will things go back to the same kind of normal as before this crisis? Or are there opportunities to change and improve how we live and work as a result of this international crisis? As businesses and individuals prepare for the post-pandemic world, whenever it comes, what changes should they be considering?
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses the opportunities for change emerging from the COVID-19 crisis with OnPlane consultant Martin Low and UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck.
In this discussion, they will contemplate what improvements to the future of work are starting to happen now and what changes are likely on the horizon. Businesses are learning new things about how to operate, and some of those discoveries will become permanent changes. There will be clear evidence in the future of which organizations took advantage of learning in the pandemic, and which ones thought the new post-pandemic normal would be exactly the same as the old normal.
Episode 14: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gqpsTw2-cE
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed weekdays at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: What We Should Change In The Post-Pandemic “Normal”
Charley Miller 0:09
Good morning, everyone. Monday…Tuesday, May 5, it’s hard to do these days keeping track. I know it’s in the first part of the week, we’re somewhere early in this week. I know it’s also somewhere early in the month. Still doing social distancing here although we know, different states around the country and different countries around the world are starting to loosen that up, see how that goes. Long story short, though, we’re not going back to the office tomorrow. And even if some people are starting to do that, it’s gonna feel a lot different. So I think today we’re going to be talking about, with all the changes that are obviously coming because of what’s happened with COVID-19 and the pandemic, let’s also think about what good things could we change. If we had complete influence, so this was our own little world where we could say “look we know what some of the best practices are, here’s a great opportunity to actually embrace and roll those out,” you know, what are some of the things that we’d like to see happen, and more companies do in the future of work?
I’ll start by just also teeing up some things that I’ve already seen happening in knowledge work office spaces and cultures, even before the pandemic happened, which has been, obviously, a major disruption. About 10 years ago, it felt like someone had this idea of the open floor plan and that thing took off like wildfire. and it made sense. When everyone went Open Office, it was the antithesis to the cubicle world that everyone really hated, right? Walls around you, you felt isolated. This whole show is about employee connectedness and man oh man, everyone wanted to break down those walls. So we got rid of all the cubicles and we had these big open offices and…now everyone hates open offices. Everyone can’t stand the noise and the chaos and dysfunction that happens when you can just hear everything that’s happening. When I was working in New York in a place of big open offices, everyone invested in what I’m wearing right now. Everyone got some really good headphones so that they didn’t have to hear everything that was happening. That kind of worked but not well.
You have to think with what’s going on now with germs, that we’re going to be seeing walls go back up around, and–right on cue I see a sneeze right there so good thing I’ve got my virtual wall up here. So, yeah, I think we’re gonna be getting some walls back. I saw a news story yesterday about plexiglass coming up around us and it’s almost like well here’s your answer to bringing back to the Open Office. Well that’s like a very like physical detail like some shifts that are happening. I think at a different level sort of the thing you can’t just sort of point at culturally, I noticed a shift in the last decade of obviously everyone stood up Slack and Microsoft Teams and that became the de facto place for work conversation that happened. But in terms of culture you also started to get a feeling that we’re starting to be the shift of these top-down models everyone really embraced in the 20th century for how decisions got made, how people reported information. Those are starting to change and all of a sudden, in the last few years has been much more talk around thinking up new work models, thinking about flexibility in the workplace, think about autonomy in the workplace.
A lot of this created the seeds of the ideas that became Unitonomy and the product that I’m building. But I think it’s a good place to start the conversation today. If you could, you know, want to look at this two ways and one is, if you could place bets on things that you definitely think are going to change in work, what are they and then also, forget the betting, but like, if you could have anything changed, like what’s the one or two things you really hope for that will change in the context of the workplace. No wrong answers, but I thought this would be a really fun conversation. So long intro but now I want to introduce who’s with me. It’s Martin Low from On Plane Consulting there in the middle, and Dr. Brad Shuck from University of Louisville. Thank you gentlemen for jumping in and thinking about this. Raise your hand if you want to go first today. All right, Martin. All right, great. Brave.
Martin Low 0:58
I don’t know, it’s not brave, it’s like, if there’s only a couple good answers and you go first. You can naturally get the good answers.
Charley Miller 1:08
Although, if you go second. If you go second you get to improve on the answer. You get to clean up and knock them in.
Martin Low 1:15
Well there’s there’s there’ll be a lot of improvement on on anything that I give. Um, I think one of the interesting things that’s happened out of all of this that we’ve seen with clients, that I’ve also had conversations with people about, is that what this is going to do the things that are easy to kind of bet on or think about in terms of how this changes work in future work is it will accelerate things that were already in progress. And so for me, I’ve been thinking about this a lot is like what just goes faster? And one of the things–and the reason why this is so important and so easy to get my hands around, and feel good about as the thinking concept–is most of the work that we’ve been doing with clients and where we see the client pain points have been in areas where we told them they should be doing this anyway. So it’s not like the whole world didn’t just change. It’s not like somebody completely reset everything in terms of how you run a business. The business fundamentals stay the way they were. It just this accelerated the need for them, or increase the pain caused by not doing it right.
Where we see the client pain points have been in areas where we told them they should be doing this anyway. So it’s not like the whole world didn’t just change. It’s not like somebody completely reset everything in terms of how you run a business. The business fundamentals stay the way they were. It’s just this accelerated the need for them, or increased the pain caused by not doing it right.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
So the way that I think about this is, what were the things that were already in play that are just going to go faster? And one of the things I think is obviously the virtual office for a number of different reasons. One is, people value that that space, Charley, that you were talking about. Whether it’s you know some time in the office, some time at home. I don’t think that the answer is cubicles in isolation, I don’t think the answer is huge, open offices, but I think that there’s a balance between. I need some social interaction, and I need some time when I’m on my own to think. I think that this just accelerates that one because we’re going to be working in that environment for a little bit where we’re stuck at home with people who don’t want to get back out but they’re gonna evaluate and learn a little bit of work at home, too. I think every business is gonna go “Wait a minute, I’m able to get most of my work done without X amount of money that I’m sinking into real estate.” So I think they’re gonna be really really interested in trimming that cost back.
And then three from a business continuity standpoint, if you ignore the fact that this may happen to your business again, you’re gonna get either clobbered by your investors, or maybe even potentially just knocked out of the market because you didn’t plan for this to happen again when it happened the first time, and had these huge business impacts. And then the last thing is is there’s a lot of data out there that employees are looking for virtual work arrangements or flexible arrangements. Almost 40% of folks that Gallup surveyed two years ago, said that they would leave a job to take a job that offered them a flexible work arrangement like this. So, all this is going to do is accelerate that that virtual work.
And then my on my wish list is that we get better about work-life balance. We’re horrible at it right now. I think it’s gonna get harder. One of the areas where I struggle with this is because I’m doing new things, I don’t know how long those things take, but I have a deadline to hit anyway. And if I end up overcapacity that often gets taken away from either my time for me personally or my time for my family, and oftentimes both. And so I’m hoping the wishlist item to me is, you know, better time management, better time with family, better balance between the time spent at work and the time spent at home.
Charley Miller 5:00
Well said. I totally agree with you on the flexibility piece and more people wanting that. And now that so many people are experiencing working from home for the first time, they’re probably past the sort of shock of getting thrown into the deep end, but now there is a “Hey, this isn’t bad. Like there is a way to do a kind of new take on how I prioritize things balancing my work life” and maybe finding in some situations more productivity. Because there’s more focus, there’s less of the distractions of the office space used to provide. Alright, Brad over to you. Yes.
Dr. Brad Shuck 5:36
So, as somebody who has worked in the cubicle farm before, I hope that is gone. That it never makes a return back. The need for space is important, being able to have like a defined space. I’ve seen a lot of different Open Office layouts and different company visits but man, I’m telling you, I, we had gray floors and gray cubes and gray desk and it looked like just a big old farm of gray. So I hope it does come back it’s improved on and looks a little bit different, so I agree with Martin.
I think the real estate market is gonna look vastly different. You know, one of my favorite things about flying in the cities is seeing the skyline from the plane. And I think, you know, maybe 50 years from now, 100 years from now, we may not have buildings like we have in downtown LA, where there’s a massive office space, and everybody is expected to be in the office, all the time to get their work done. Because this is going to have shifted the DNA of how we do our business, and maybe, so I think maybe it’s possible we won’t have, I don’t know if we won’t ever have skyscrapers again, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find funding right now to, to build up a, you know, 200 storey skyscraper for a company or for a building. But maybe those spaces get reclaimed in different ways through different city projects and maybe those become places of homes or gardens. I don’t know but think the real estate market is gonna look very different.
I also think the supply chain is gonna look incredibly different, you know. The focus for decades now, on supply chain has been how efficient and lean can you be. And that level of efficiency is kind of what has gotten us into the place we are right now, where there is no access, there’s no redundancy, there’s no duplication. And so instead of an efficient supply chain, I wonder what a resilient supply chain might look like. Now it’s not my idea. Nat Irvin is a professor with the College of Business at the University of Louisville and we were talking about this the other day. And I wonder what, rather than an incredibly efficient and lean supply chain would look like, what a resilient, or what a compassionate supply chain might look like–those are words we’ve, we’ve never even paired together with the idea of supply chain–and how that might shape the way that we get our goods. It might also impact…right now we’re facing some meat shortages and we’re facing some vegetable shortages. If we had a resilient supply chain, we would have thought about how these interconnected systems work and maybe we’ll overlay or some equity and inclusion with that. And there are different opportunities now that pop up, so now there are different job opportunities, there are different professional opportunities and career fields that don’t currently exist right now.
I also think we’re going to move away from management to development. I think for years, we have focused tremendous amount of energy and time trying to develop as many policies and procedures as we can to manage humans. And I think what we found is, we don’t really need all of that policy and procedure. That I’m able to manage here just fine. I’m able to be productive, just fine. There’s accountability with that, for sure, I’ve got to get stuff done. But I don’t really need to be managed. Here’s what I need, I need to be developed. And if, if we can do that we can develop skill sets, and we can learn, and we can grow, we could talk about career pathing that changes the game, maybe we don’t need 100 page policy manual. Maybe we need some, but maybe we don’t need everything about how long lunch breaks are and how long, how many sick days you have, you know. I, I’m home. I mean, if I’m sick, I’m sick and I can still do my work here. It’s not a big deal and the software that we have, the technology that we have has changed the game.
I also think we’re going to move away from management to development….we don’t really need all of that policy and procedure. Here’s what I need, I need to be developed. And if, if we can do that we can develop skill sets, and we can learn, and we can grow, we could talk about career pathing that changes the game, maybe we don’t need 100-page policy manual.Dr. Brad Shuck, University of Louisville
Dr. Brad Shuck 9:49
My wish list is a little bit personal. We live out in an area of the state, that doesn’t have the internet. And so we run everything off a hotspot. Which is why probably my screen freezes up sometimes. I hope that the internet is seen as a utility, the way that gas has seen water electric, and that there’s a little bit of pressure put on companies, the big companies that control a lot of the internet lines and dropping those lines and speed and throttling that, now is regulated in some way and seen as a utility and not as something that’s nice to have. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do homeschool, we’re going to work from home and do these kinds of things and this becomes a real need. So that would be the wish list that I would have.
Charley Miller 10:46
Yeah, so I think we’re all understanding the internet is an essential element, right now, of the world. And we got to make sure everyone has access to it at a decent speed so that they can participate in the economies that are developing, they’ve got to be online. Going back to an earlier comment you had, Brad, I really love the idea of pairing the word “compassion” with “supply chain.” You’re right, I’ve never heard that before and kind of like wow that’s a totally different way to think about it. Yeah I think I hear people talk about resiliency and certainly what we’re seeing in the news is we’re over here farmers are destroying food because they have a demand problem, whereas there’s other people out there who could really use it where there’s true demand. They still don’t have the ability to get the supply. It’s crazy.
I like to exercise that kind of thinking. Well where else can we take the word compassion and apply it to? And I think there’s definitely something there to say what happens when we like pair compassion, with, say, management, right, or compassion with decision making, or compassion, with workflow. I think there’s a lot of interesting things there, where we think about how we do our work, but we do it in a way that is good for the humans that are involved in it. It’s not just about the output, right. And we could probably do a whole series of shows on that piece. Something I’ve been tracking lately, which goes back to this whole conversation is this idea of, we’re not just going to look at a single bottom line anymore. Companies are really going to start to realize that this idea of the triple bottom line, which has been growing for about a decade, but it’s kind of slowly out of like the dark edges of the world, and now it’s kind of the forefront that like, there is a larger responsibility and investors are now investing in ways that embrace that, which really gives companies the leeway to to follow through on ideas. It’s not just about making money but we’ve got to make sure that we have value and purpose, beyond just the quarterly shareholders, but really thinking that shareholders are also the general public and so forth. I hope that things are evolving that direction. Time will tell.
Let’s go around for some parting thoughts here for sort of what would be. And I hate to end on a downer., because I know you guys don’t go for that way, but let’s just try, let’s just see how that feels today. What would be the most depressing thing for you to realize didn’t change in the year 2025? Right we’re doing the show in five years and we’re like, geez man we, you know, we’re still doing that same dumb thing in the workplace. What would that thing be that you’d just be like, Oh, why are we still suffering like this?
I think for me, I’ll start, would be going back to your first point, Martin about the flexibility. That like, there are still companies out there that refused to let people work off-site, work at home. They’re not giving the flexibility people need. And maybe if they’re doing it, they’re not really supporting it. They’re doing things like monitoring, where they’re taking screenshots your computer every five minutes, they’re monitoring your keystrokes, it feels like, you know, a security camera over your shoulder. Unfortunately, a lot of companies think they need to do that to make sure people are really working at home, and not realizing that someone doesn’t have to be doing the thing every five minutes to actually be a strong contributor, it can happen in all kinds of different hours of the day and all kinds of different forms. I would, I hope that when we think about work flexibility, it doesn’t become a strange sort of big brother state of keeping tabs on your every movement detail, office so it’d be depressing for me. All right, so, Martin, I’m gonna I’m gonna swing it over to you. What would be the most depressing thing from your perspective. Oh, yeah, you’re muted.
Martin Low 14:40
There you go. One, well I’ve got a few things one would be people can’t figure out how to mute and unmute call hell that we’ve all been dealing with…
Dr. Brad Shuck 14:50
I do that like every half hour.
Martin Low 14:54
So that would be totally depressing. One is five years seems like a long time but in the corporate world it’s not as far away as we think. I think there’s still gonna be some companies that do silly things no matter what. I think I think to me coming out of this, one of the most depressing things would be that people just don’t acknowledge a company level in not just senior leadership but like middle management because that’s where the rubber meets the road is that a lot of these rules have fundamentally changed. Right, so the way that you manage a business has to fundamentally change, and there’s a few things that are coming out of this specifically. One is the management comment that you made Charley versus the development..or Brad well so you were talking about management, you were talking about like micromanagement, like you check my screen, you take the number of keystrokes you see if I’m working right. That’s the management. Brad’s talking about development and saying, How do I lead in a compassionate way that drives that forward? I think, you know, that is a fundamental thing that has to change and I’m hoping more and more businesses, adopt that.
And I think along that same vein, that they’ve got to change the way that they interact with kind of that triangle, that three legged stool that supports the business. So when you think about that three legged stool it’s your customers, your shareholders, and your employees. I think most of that triangle, especially in the businesses that are really getting hammered right now, has been propped up by the shareholders. And that’s been an uneven stool for a very long time. And what you’re seeing is especially with these companies when they did these big share buybacks. Now they have no money. They have nothing in the hopper to innovate. They have not built this solid stool to sit on. And they’re getting really tipsy. And they get knocked around, and so I’m hoping that one of the things that changes by 2025, is that there’s a new realization that there’s a long term play that they have to build value across the organization, not just for the shareholders but also for their employees, so that they can be sustainable out there for their customers.
Charley Miller 17:13
It’s a great metaphor, the three-legged stool. All right, Dr. Shuck.
Dr. Brad Shuck 17:19
So I’m going to give you two. First thing would be if our highways are still as congested, as they are today in five years, it’s going to tell me nothing’s changed. People are still getting up at 630 in the morning to get to work before their boss gets in so nobody’s tapping their watch out. I hope that the highways aren’t as congested as they are. It’s obviously we don’t, we don’t need to be in the office like we used to. The other thing would be if we’re still trying to solve problems by by creating procedures and restrictions versus asking questions and being curious…I hope that we don’t continue to develop restrictions for folks but instead we really find ways to help them grow develop and be their best self and under what that might look like
Charley Miller 18:07
Fantastic stuff guys. This would be a fun conversation we revisit from time to time, and see how things really are evolving because things are evolving so fast right now so quickly. And as people go back to work–I’ll do that in air quotes because it’s kind of unclear when and how that looks–but it’ll be interesting to track to see what changes are sticking what companies are talking about. I’ve seen some really good things in the press, just to end on this one, where some CEOs who said they would never do remote work or call me on saying, their minds have been blown by how well people are adapting and working and performing and that they may never go back, or they will absolutely adapt the flexible work. And the sort of flip model where you come into the office one or two days a week for meetings but otherwise go focus it out, which is great. All right, great show. Thank you all. Martin Low, On Plane Consulting. Dr. Brad Shuck, University of Louisville, always pleasure. We will be back on Friday. Thank you everyone. Bye.