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We are our own worst enemy, both in Covid and in business

In just about all parts of our lives we are our own worst enemies. Take the current Covid 19 situation in Victoria. The only reason hotel quarantine was required, was because it was expected that people wouldn’t necessarily do what was right and stay home. The only reason we needed security was because even in a hotel setting, there was still a good chance people wouldn’t do the right thing. And then there is the security guards who… well…. also did the wrong thing.

The right thing to do is to stay home, wear a mask when out, limit contact, limit unnecessary travel, and practice social distancing. All pretty straight forward and logical. All except for the human part. The part where it is reliant on people to do what is best for themselves, and everyone else.

And it isn’t much different in business. Most businesses have opportunities to do things better. Opportunities to implement change, or work more efficiently. But, ultimately it comes down to the exact same answer. People. People are ultimately the cause of inefficiency, and a lack of change. Why? Because “we don’t want to”. The same can be said for health, diet, workplace safety, animal welfare, environment, even housework. In the majority of cases it is not a lack of knowledge, it is a lack of application. Because “we don’t want to!”

For many, the Covid interruptions provide a unique opportunity to re-assess your business, your career, yourself. Start with these simple questions –

  • Why do I do what I do?

  • Why do I do it the way that I do it?

  • Why do I do it where I do it?

For many businesses, the question of “where” will be particularly pertinent. Why have we been paying for offices. The reality is that much of the need for an office is management insecurity. We need to be able to watch people to make sure they work. That is a cultural problem in itself. Where is the trust? And if there isn’t any, then why did you hire them?

“It’s more efficient” is the other reason. We all know that isn’t always true. Having people congregate together delivers opportunities for guilt free procrastination. The contrast can be found in anyone who has found themselves working from home recently. You will know all about the guilt that you carry when you aren’t sitting behind your computer.

It is a different sense of obligation to punch out hour after hour of productive work. The reality is you never did in the office anyway. There was always a coffee to make, a water cooler to stand around and talk about last nights episode of the ‘Bachelor’. So, hanging out the washing in your break shouldn’t be guilt laden. But it is, and from a productivity point of view, that can be useful.

The one thing that working from home does damage is the sense of team. Those unplanned conversations, knowing what Scott or Lauren got up to on the weekend. Even just knowing what Jeff is working on, which isn’t in your area, “but has he thought about this”?

It is also the actual isolation. For many, work is as important socially as it is financially, and removing a physical workplace takes that away from them. So ultimately the future for many businesses will be developing a healthy balance. Does the office need to be as big as it was? Can we offer more flexibility?

For starters, why would anyone come to work when if they have even the mildest of colds? We don’t need them spreading that around the office, particularly when they can just as effectively work from home, and keep their germs to themselves. But they come because traditionally there have only been two options. Go to work, or use a sick day. How ridiculous.

People are the most important asset of any business. No matter how good your systems are, no matter how good your equipment and infrastructure are, nothing functions properly without good happy and healthy people.

Inefficiency comes from people who are unhappy. Unhappy in their role, unhappy with the lack of acknowledgement, the lack of support, the lack of flexibility, the lack of progress, or sometimes, and this is an important sometimes, because they aren’t being paid enough. But only sometimes.

So, what should the modern work environment look like? Different! More flexibility, less money spent on buildings and furniture, and more investment in people and the technology required for bringing them together. Online meetings aren’t as good as a great robust face to face meeting, but how many of the meetings that everyone was having were genuinely effective anyway?

You should invest in improving your whole teams’ ability to communicate, run effective meetings, and deliver their information in a succinct manner, and then we can finally drastically reduce the time spent sitting through meaningless dribble.

We have all sat through them. The meeting that “has” to be had, because "that’s how we do things". Nothing is achieved, other than cramming people in an enclosed space, spreading some gastro, or a cold, providing a few more sick days for the organisation. All so that Peter can stand up the front and fumble his way through 45 minutes that should have taken 5, and actually could have been done online, or even in an email. Meetings are time thieves.

Us humans are the number one thing holding back progress and change. We are the reason that Covid will drag on longer than it should, hurting the economy for longer than it should. But we are also the solution. We should all be constantly looking for new ways of doing things, and not just protecting the old ways. Progress is delivered by those willing to challenge the past, while tradition is an excuse for resisting change.

Be the future you want.

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