How can we nurture fragile things like ideas in a remote world?

In the Zoom where it happens

Return to the office. Don’t return to the office. One thing is for certain: there isn’t a simple return to the way things were. And at ELSE, we’re excited about creating an environment — a blend of old and new — where we’re able to nurture both talent and ideas.  

Covid-19 has changed the way we work. But this change in the Design industry has been a long time coming. By definition, we’re a progressive bunch of humans, with an instinct for breaking problems down in order to figure out more effective ways of putting things back together. And now our industry can lead the way for others.

For decades, we’ve all been conditioned into structures and hierarchies and being in a certain place to deliver certain things. But we’re not here to simply sell clients our time, and to work when they want us to work. We offer creativity — ideas — and have been doing this long enough to be confident in how we bring those ideas to life. And now, this very nuanced skill requires careful nurturing in this new world.

The first stage of this new adjustment is practical: getting teams set up to function. As it turns out, the digital collaboration tools were standing by to make this relatively simple. The next stage is to optimise the situation so our teams can do ‘good work’. Work that not only produces excellent outcomes, but that also feels good to the teams who do it. And it’s this stage that requires the most thought. Just like any design project, it also requires iterative improvements. We’re still learning, but here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • As Dan Pink says in his book ‘Drive’: Autonomy, purpose and mastery are more important than ever if we want our teams to perform, feel engaged, empowered and, to steal a phrase from Matt Clarke, ‘switched-on’.
  • 90% of communication is non-verbal, so it stands to reason that when you rip a team apart and place the nodes of that team in separate locations, you are going to lose something. We must find ways — beyond the morning stand-up on video conference — to promote presence, share nuance, and nurture fragile things like ideas and talent.

We have to rethink how we manage and distribute work so that people feel really engaged with work that draws on their capabilities.

Out with the old, but not all of it

Nothing less than the prize of shorter working hours and more time for rest and play is up for grabs: an opportunity to bring greater balance to our lives. To seize it, we need to set our teams up to be really effective and purposeful.

To work well from home, we can’t just do things the way we always have, but with the complication of being in separate locations, connected by video conference. We need to empower people to self-organise, to decide on the value of the most important tasks, and to delineate work from rest.

Working smarter and working shorter depends on the right culture built around an ability to organise ourselves. At ELSE, we begin the week by getting together, because human contact remains vital. We come together not to sit at a desk and process emails or Slack messages but to work together, exchange ideas, and provide support.

And in this time, we define our collective goals. Rather than handing out tasks, we enter into a social contract. All that matters is that we collectively achieve our stated goals. Individuals are empowered to define their tasks and share how they are dependent on other team members. When done successfully, the 9 to 5 requirement is reimagined, and a new balance between team collaboration and individual focused work is achieved.

So, we’re learning a new set of remote skills that gives us choice. We start with two crucial questions:

  1. What have you got to do?
  2. What do I need to get the job done?

But the answers to these questions are myriad, and as individual as our lives. People can be given the freedom and trust to deliver, however works for them. As change happens all around us, this could just be the most positive thing to happen to the workplace in a generation.

Using our Staff Experience Explorer™, ELSE has helped some of the world’s largest companies identify innovative ways to build their cultures, such as Shell, BUPA, Accor/Ibis Hotels, and MGM. Talk to us today about how we can help you redefine the way you work.


If you’d like to hear more, or discuss how we can help you, please get in touch.

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