Do you remember that “Back to School” feeling?
I can recall a twin sense of unfairness and inevitability when the big signs in shops advertising everything from pens and pencils to shoes to trousers and blazers seemed to appear only a couple of weeks into the summer holidays.
It wasn’t that I hated school – quite the opposite – but the sensation was unavoidable that the informality and freedoms of the summer break would be replaced shortly, probably on a chilly morning in September, with the routine of getting up, getting ready, going out and submitting to the strictures, routines, requirements, expectations and workloads of the return to school. Yes, there had been a break, but the return would be going back to exactly what had existed before.
In adult life, many people still admit to that “Sunday afternoon, getting ready for Monday morning” feeling… but, like many things, that has been adapted into something else by the enforced, prolonged restrictions of Covid-19.
There have been many light-hearted comments on social media about “not wanting the pressure of seeing people in person again” when all this is over. While this is - in most cases - a joke that exists as a counterpoint to the reality of missing pre-pandemic interactions, I believe that all flippant remarks such as this one have a grain of truth in them.
Which brings us to the impending feeling of “Back to School”, or, in this instance, “Back to Work”. As the pressure mounts to return to something like normal, people will be required, for at least a couple of days a week, to abandon their assorted “home offices” and the freedoms that these have brought, for their work communities.
For many organisations universal remote working is neither practical nor desirable as a long-term solution. It will certainly have its place, and it is a welcome variation to the tyranny of expectation of five-days-a-week-in-the-office culture that was so prevalent before, but, as Caroline Fairbairn of the CBI said last year, your can’t innovate the future of your business from the sofa. Hybrid working might become more universally accepted, but people need to interact with each other, to share ideas and socialise, albeit in a work setting.
So, if people are reluctant to return, or are returning with anxieties or concerns, what can you do to help them, and how can you turn the experience of the past year to your advantage?
At Colour;Noun, we believe that the answer is reboarding. Historically, many businesses have mechanisms in place to reintegrate employees who had been away from work for a long period, whether through sickness, sabbatical or maternity leave. In addition, new starters are routinely onboarded, to introduce them to the company culture, get them used to the expectations of their role and help them apply their skills and experiences in a worthwhile way so that everybody benefits.
It is our belief that smart organisations will see, in a period of reboarding, the potential in incorporating the experiences and insights that have been gained over the past year to benefit everyone and make positive transformations to the work environment. To understand why we think this we would like to point you in the direction of Antifragile -Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
The buzzword that has dominated the Covid response of many businesses is resilience, but resilience sets its standard, and its optimum achievement, to be bouncing back to a state that existed before. A rubber ball is resilient and will return to its previous form… but some things improve as a consequence of being stressed: muscle growth, broken bones, even the evolution of life itself to name but three.
One of the key points of this concept is embracing the setback. Exercised muscles hurt, broken bones come from trauma, and evolutionary changes occur when some organisms adapt better to changed circumstances than ones that do not survive - but the essential point is that they come back from stress better than before.
Everyone has been changed by what we have been through. There have been many stresses to business and society. Attitudes have undoubtedly been altered and new ways of working have been trialled and adopted. Embracing these changes – discussing them and unpicking the lessons that they hold - can make a huge difference to the experience of work and make that “first day back at school” feeling something to be excited about, rather than daunting. It may also make your business better and fitter than it was before.
Are you looking to reboard your team? Read more on our reboarding workshop offer here.
Colour; Noun (Vicky Holding and Howard Karloff)