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Guest column: Why makeshift offices might be the future of work culture

It will be equally important to find work-life balance.

NEW DELHI: The year-long lockdown pause brought by the pandemic is perhaps nature’s way of turning to a new page, a new format, and newer ways to move forward. A lot has changed and a lot more is changing.

The biggest after-effect has been the change in working arrangements across sectors and industries during the prolonged lockdown. This unprecedented situation swept the workplace like a hurricane. Surviving the lockdown was a feat for most companies. It hasn’t been an easy task for the employers too, to ensure that employees adapt to the new working arrangements without apprehension. And that I believe was, and still is, the toughest task.

The pandemic unmasked new risks, prompting most offices to redefine the way people work and the way work is done. Workplace is not where business is conducted, it is also a cultural space for people to meet, interact, share, appreciate and ideate. And to call for a change in culture is easier said than done. An interesting quote by Frances Hesselbein that quite sums up the upheaval is, “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of the people working together every day.”

Leaders now need to focus on their REALM - Readjusting, Leveraging, and Moulding of their company culture to create a deep impact. The need to redefine the employees’ scope of work, and ensure they do it safely, efficiently and effectively is a pressing priority. The shift in working pattern is no longer an alternative, but a necessity as we rapidly embrace the new normal.

At TheSmallBigIdea, we believe culture is of great essence, and is always defined by behaviour. For us, it was important that our team culture was revived, albeit remotely. Giving employees’ time to adapt to the new work culture by allowing them to work remotely for the longest time, was of supreme importance. We continued our meetings on conferencing apps and ensured discussions happened on a regular basis to maintain project timelines. Our new work culture did not demand attendance, end results were all that mattered.

We realised that one could still achieve results irrespective of the place of operation. Work from Home as a concept always existed, but wasn’t viewed as an ideal work culture. WFH has come to stay. It took a pandemic for us to realise that ‘workspace’ is merely a concept that can be created anywhere.

Getting back to work was perhaps easy. With time, what we really need to pay attention to is the mental and emotional well-being of our employees. While most people adjusted to this new normal with almost complete WFH status, a significant number reported struggling with burnout and feeling under pressure. We wonder if the shift has been too much too soon, since the transition is after all, new to everyone. The cultural change is difficult to make. It leaves memory pangs, you want to go back to your desk with the schedule pinned to the softboard above, gather over a cup of coffee in the pantry, let your creative juices flow in a brainstorming session, or just travel the distance to meet up with colleagues. When change is inevitable, we must learn to accept it and not fight it; create a new work culture and find ways to bridge the gap.

We don’t know when the distancing restrictions will ease, if at all. Therefore, at TSBI, we decided to count our blessings and look ahead. The new way of functioning also brought in its own benefits:

- Travel time was saved and that straight away brings stress levels down.

- We introduced ways to keep the team confidence and optimism high by conducting engaging sessions during festive and special days, monthly individual team level engagement programmes and training sessions to improve departmental skillsets.

- We reached out to talented and skilled people from far flung places; a virtual office can have no dearth of creative people.

We believe that our teams are the reason we exist. During the pandemic, as an organisation, we ensured there were no layoffs nor pay cuts. We also ensured that performance reviews were conducted and due payments were initiated. Part of the new working arrangement was also to make sure that there are no communication gaps between the management and the team members.

The senior management made a constant effort to personally stay in touch with the team members, to maintain connect and build a rapport. Interaction with new team members and interns during this phase was maintained on a regular basis.

Moving forward, it will be important to find work-life balance. As a company, we will have to find an ideal balance between the changing work culture and the grounded values of the organisation, to stay true to both.  The concept of makeshift offices might become the smarter way to work in the near future.

There will be a lot of rethinking and reorganising, and some starting all over again. The virus may fade away, stay put or pick a new strain, but we will have to adapt as it evolves; and whatever the circumstance is, we will have to stay with it for time.

(The author is COO and co-founder of TheSmallBigIdea. may not subscribe to his views.)

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