COVID-19 has not only called into question the ways we work, it has also brought to light many of the sacrifices we make for our careers. In this current state, where we have been forced to break away from our typical work behaviours, there is an opportunity to observe and revaluate and perhaps most importantly – to challenge the status quo of our pre-pandemic lives for a more balanced future.
Many employees are experiencing working from home for the first time with mixed results.
This abrupt change has come with considerable challenge. Parents are distracted from their jobs with exceeding childcare responsibility. I have spoken with employers that are uncertain about the effectiveness of their newly distributed operations and employees that feel disconnected from their colleagues. In this unfamiliar environment, there is deeply rooted resistance that to this day many of us have not yet found a perfect solution for.
Amidst these challenges there are also undeniable benefits. There are new accounts of improved mental health among employees no longer facing demoralizing commutes and unenriched working spaces. Working parents are spending more time with their families.
Prior to COVID-19, my family’s daily routine wasn’t unlike the routines of other parents with full-time jobs and young children.
We started our day around 5:00 a.m. By 7:00 a.m., Dasha is would be out the door to the hospital and I would be on route to drop the kids with my parents or at daycare. By 8:15 a.m., I’d arrive at Computek College for a full day. I would pick the kids up again around 5:30 p.m.. Back home for dinner and brief family time before the kids head to sleep. Dasha and I spend some time together and then I am back to work until about midnight.
Before the pandemic, this was typical for us. For our children especially, we have always prioritized routine.
However, like so many others, COVID-19 changed that routine. We no longer drop the kids off to daycare. I spend significantly more time at the house and while Dasha is still at the hospital, she is away from our home less often. While it is chaotic at times, we are learning to adjust and more importantly, we are also starting to see many of those undeniable benefits for ourselves.
We are seeing our children grow up. More than ever, we are witnessing the moments and nuances of their development. Only a few weeks ago I watched my daughter ride a bicycle on her own for the first time. Mid-day, mid-week – when I would have otherwise been at our offices.
Dasha and I are spending more time together. More hours at home, more conversations and the strength of our already powerful connection seems to be growing.
On a more personal level, I am starting to give myself more permission to find balance amidst the hustle of entrepreneurship. What I’m discovering is that this balance has actually made me more productive and fulfilled in my professional pursuits.
After COVID-19, I suspect that many employers will not fully embrace this opportunity for change. Many believe that human contact and shared physical experiences are crucial components of the workplace. That we may not be able to build trust and comradery with the adage of computers, cameras and microphones in all of our engagement points. It could be argued that the distributed team loses the chance for informal connection; pertinent not only to team building but also to innovation and growth.
These are all points I would not contest. In fact, I believe that the fixed working environment will always be crucial to many business models. Incredible opportunity emerges when people gather – we must never forget that it’s not only about the people but also the field.
However, to me, balance is now a greater priority than ever before. For myself and my family, for my employees and their families.
I believe that after COVID-19, there are a few ways that we can get closer to this balance:
1. Educate Canadian employers on these benefits. We explore case studies and offer insights for evidence enriched methodology for effective distributed leadership models. The first step is an open forum for corporate leadership.
2. With evidence in hand, we look to employers to take lead on this change. Businesses like Shopify, Siemens and Twitter have already established their positions in remaining distributed. Not all employers have to take such a polarizing position – hybrid models and employee choice models show potential.
3. We look to the Government of Canada and our Provincial/Territorial Governments to support this new working model. Taxation policies, human rights policies and our economic strategy should all be considered.
4. Investment in new community workspaces. Companies like We Work established the global hot desk model for a pre-COVID-19 environment. Organizations like Regus are starting to innovate in the pandemic and post-pandemic environment. I believe there is great merit in professional spaces, closer to home. Smart office technology undoubtedly plays a role in the future of socially distanced shared offices.
We have an opportunity to hold the benefits of working at home in one hand while we explore these sorts of innovations and new approaches in the other. It begins by observing the success and shortfalls of our current and considering that our future does not have to reflect our past.