Tough or impossible return to the office…
The covid has changed our lives, no one can deny it. The way we work has changed radically and suddenly. We have gone from all “on-site” and physical presence to all “home working” and no physical presence. The middle ground and the future of work, we are told, will be hybrid and a mix of telework and on-site presence. But one perverse effect of these forced confinements is that many employees have become complacent. They get up in the morning and take the time to have breakfast with their children, drive them to school or to the gym, have lunch at home, play sports more pleasantly than running into the exhaust of cars in a city center, etc. So, this new comfort, without more “communting”, without traffic jams, at home, in the garden, without car traffic, train delays, stress and travel fatigue, pleases many. They have “daddyfied” themselves. They are well at home, safe and work with a new and pleasant flexibility of schedule. The return to work stresses them, anguishes them and disturbs them so much they appreciated this new life. They have become sedentary and are asked to become work nomads again. This is a new syndrome, the confinement syndrome. It is perverse because if everyone would like to work more from home, a 100% is not possible or sometimes not possible (case of workers from abroad) for social security or tax reasons.
A different working world…
So, the world will become hard and cruel and there will be bore-outs, nervous depressions and other problems, related to the return to normal, even if it is different. The world has changed and the return to the way things were before must be gradual to be successful. Salespeople in any organization will tell you that virtual meetings are usually easy to get. However, we find that physical meetings on site are much more complicated to get. The new life must be rethought to avoid clashes back at the office. These executives have become “grandaddyfied,” so to speak. We do not think that they work less or less well but differently and that taking away what was, for many, royal will hurt a lot. We fear great danger and discomfort in the teams, and we must be prepared for this. However, simply adjusting schedules and hybrid work will not be enough. They have developed bad habits that will be difficult to correct. Everyone now dreams of working from the country house in Normandy, the vacation home in southern Italy, being close to a beach, the mountains, and their loved ones. But the harsh reality of the working world is different and does not allow it or will not allow it anymore. The shock of returning to the office will be hard and will leave its mark on everyone. Some don’t think about it and don’t prepare themselves for it.
Virtual networking and asocialisation
For the social aspect of the job, the same principle applies. I will virtually follow conferences say the most pro-active, I will no longer go to networking events say the laziest and this essential aspect of professional life will isolate them, stigmatize them, weaken them and make them very vulnerable. We can fear a lack that will be fatal when changing position, company, job, … Life is a choice and we will have to make it but wanting as the popular French adage says: “the butter, the money of the butter … and the smile of the creamer” is perhaps utopian. The world of before was not so bad as that and adapted slightly can prove to be beneficial and more effective. The world of the covid is no longer and can no longer be. Some people forget it at the risk of having a painful and fatal awakening, sooner or later.
Be prepared to come back to work
We must be prepared for it, not dread it, and find the right balance to satisfy employees and employers. A virtual workshop can be efficient, good, and satisfying. But nothing will replace a good old-fashioned meeting in the presence of colleagues where ideas are exchanged, and where we understand each other better. The effectiveness of a face-to-face brainstorming session cannot be challenged by a ZOOM or TEAM conference call, without body language, sometimes using voice alone and with the weaknesses of technology to boot. In a world of perpetual and rapid change, we must adapt and the post-covid will force us to reinvent ourselves as long as we put water in our wine and forget the special parenthesis of lockdowns.
Business as usual?
It is a situation for which there is no playbook. We therefore need to adapt as best as possible. Of course, there are people looking forward to being back to work, because of lack of social networking, too small apartments, inconveniences of kids at home, etc… and there are many. They are also afraid of missing out. Especially young people need to network by spending time in the offices, learn through informal exchanges and get a peripheral vision which is harder to do in a GOOOGLEMEET or WEBCONFERENCING lands. But the others who enjoy covid lockdowns would love to stay at home for working. These employees have appetite to missing out. Coming back to workplaces may be in many cases a change, to be managed properly. We are not yet at a point where we can say there is one approach that is working well. It’s about being prepared to innovate and try different things. There are many considerations, cultural, regulatory, and contextual matters to contemplate, which make choices difficult for management. Refusing to face a guaranteed problem as this would be foolish and risky.
François Masquelier, CEO of Simply Treasury Luxembourg.
Disclaimer: This article was prepared by François Masquelier in his personal capacity. The opinion expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers (i.e., EACT).