Each week we’ve been building on themes and topics, sharing experiences and attempting to understand ways we can learn from our recent ways of remote working and how these learnings may inform new ways of working.

This week we had a particular focus on the social experience of reopening – as states in Australia and other places around the world slowly begin to open up in a phased approach, what does that look and feel like to the individual?

For our group, there’s been a mixed view on reopening, as well as some members living in places that haven’t quite reopened yet. There’s an overarching concern about doing the right thing, from worry over ensuring we’re adhering to protocols, guidelines and requirements for dining in at newly reopened businesses, to a heightened awareness of what and where we are touching objects including tables and chairs and the need to wash or sanitise our hands far more frequently than we probably did before. There’s a sense of responsibility to others, to continue to keep the curve flattened, and to not necessarily rush straight out to do things just to get out of the house. And there’s also some concern about the behaviour of others in shared and public spaces – can I trust these other people to do the right thing?

Of course, it’s not just the social side of reopening that we need to be thinking about, and our talk once again turned to the reopening – or not, yet – of our organisations’ physical office spaces. There are so many factors to consider, from transportation to work and adhering to public transport passenger number guidelines such as in NSW, to the shared spaces and communal objects we are so used to, like lunchrooms and kitchens.

We heard anecdotal reports of different approaches, with some organisations advising staff they cannot leave food in the fridge overnight – and others saying not to use the fridges at all – while others advised against the use of communal microwaves. And, of course, there’s the question of shared cutlery and crockery, sharing dishwashers, and getting people to clean up after themselves. Do you remove all shared cutlery and crockery? Unplug the dishwashers so they can’t be used? Can people still use the kettle? The coffee maker? Who will be regularly sanitising these shared spaces, and how frequently?

There also remains the unsolved lift puzzle, a challenge in buildings of any size, but particularly fraught in large high rises. Many of us would be familiar with lift ‘peak hour’, where queues of people wait in sometimes quite confined spaces in order to use the lift – and that’s with the lifts being filled as much as possible for each ride. Organisations will need to consider not only how to manage reduced numbers in lifts, but also how to negotiate and organise this space with shared building tenants and, of course, with their own employees, including considering options such as ongoing work from home, staggered work times for the physical office space, and perhaps even a shift away from Monday to Friday for everyone to working five days (or four days, if we follow the NZ proposal) that work for both the employee and the organisation across the seven-day week. Perhaps the night owls amongst us who don’t have client-facing roles might even prefer to work nights rather than days?

Any such large scale changes to the traditional 9-5 structure have their own flow-on effects, such as managing availability and contactability for clients, partners and suppliers, and there are effects even within the organisation as well. While we have long had – and have now deployed and adopted at scale – technologies that enable asynchronous communication, the use of these tools in the long term requires a considerable shift in how we think about communication and how we approach sourcing information, knowledge, and on-the-spot answers. If a team is going to have members who are not all co-located, and who do not all work the same days of the week or even the same hours, then there needs to be a shared agreement about how the team will work together, how they will manage contactability and availability, and how they will manage asynchronous communication and transparency of work. And, in turn, how will these things be managed at an inter-team level within an organisation? Expectations and ways of working need to be made explicit, and a shared understanding is required in order to be effective.

Although it seems like our organisations have generally gotten along quite well during this crisis, there remains a great deal to unpack about the future of work as we begin to transition out of crisis mode and into the next form of ‘business as usual’. While we would certainly never suggest we have all the answers, these are the types of things we question, consider and discuss each week in our remote work meetup group. Every question, insight and perspective is welcome and valued, whatever your role and wherever you are in the world. Join our community and meet with us this week, Friday 29 May at 8am Sydney time – RSVP here.


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