The Evolution Of Business From Brick and Mortar Rigidity to Athletic Agility
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, companies have defined themselves by their “Brick and Mortar.” Or, their hard assets, in the form of equipment, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and corporate office buildings. Though this remains for many, such as manufacturing-based companies or business models for service companies.
Those with no tangible products have still been defined by what happens within the walls of their offices; the culture, collaboration, and energy being the crucial components for the success of the company.
This solid foundation has also caused certain inherent realities such as finite, local talent pools. Pools expandable only by opening more brick and mortar offices everywhere the business wants to function. Thus, costs of living, office space, and vendors’ availability and support services often dictated expansion plans and customer satisfaction.
Along comes COVID, and everyone is working at home. Suddenly, the office culture is gone. No more daily lunches, Friday Happy Hours, office parties, birthday parties, or in-person collaboration.
Without the office structure – the brick and mortar containing and offering a structure to the organism – companies felt they were on shaky ground and uncharted territory.
How do we preserve our culture? How do we foster Synergy? What about productivity? Can everyone be productive working at home? What are the needs of our employees while working at home? How can we possibly measure this?
Work at Home Skepticism
Traditionally, companies have been very skeptical about allowing team members to work at home. The assumption has always been that productivity would suffer as everyday distractions continuously interrupt the old 9-5 workday.
There was also the unsaid concern that employees that wanted to work virtually had something to hide: a questionable work ethic, poor interpersonal skills, or some kind of social anxiety that made working in an office stressful. The overall assumption was that they were not team players if they need to work at home.
I have worked virtually for over 20 years and personally have encountered these assertions. I have been passed over for roles that were strong fits for my experience and background because of my desire to work at home.
I have been the subject of daily 7:30 AM meetings: to make sure that I was awake, at my desk, and ready to work by 8 am. Or the “random” checkpoint phone call or even being instructed to tape-record my recruiting calls so that I could present at least 8 hours of cold calls per week to prove my activities.
A Forced Evolution
COVID forced the rapid shift of the organization’s dependence on the office to define their culture and assure productivity, toward depending on the employees themselves to ensure personal productivity and be personally accountable for producing quality work on time.
Companies have discovered that they don’t need the brick and mortar of the office building to bind the business – essentially being the company’s cell wall. Instead, they can turn to Technology to be the binding force – the cell membrane – in a much more flexible and agile organism.
Not only did we find that we can use tech for measuring productivity, contribution, build teams, and foster collaboration, but found that the assumption of people being less productive and more distracted working at home was not true.
We also learned that the expectation of family life not interfering or distracting from work has always been a farce. Even when in an office, people would step into the stairwell or go for a walk to handle personal affairs during office time.
Sometimes these distractions could take up hours in the course of a workday. While parents make call after call to take care of urgent family issues that cannot be put off until later, or even to leave the office to take care of the family. Which would often result in the loss of the entire workday or a return to work later with other things on their mind.
Work-life integration while working at home has shown employers that it is better to let people understand that they have obligations for performance, deadlines, and making video call appearances as needed to satisfy customer needs.
We have realized that more important than the 9-5 workday is the expectation of performance and completing quality work on time, and always keeping the customer’s need at the center of our activities.
So then does it matter if someone works 8-4? Or 9-5, or 9-9 with a couple of breaks throughout the day to drive the kids to piano lessons or go to appointments?
No. It doesn’t. Shifting to the work-at-home environment has proven what I have always known: Most people are more productive at home.
Though the family might be physically right in front of us – they always have been as the phone calls or text messages blow up the phone – what is missing are the office distractions.
Gossip, water cooler chats, office parties, dress-down days, happy hours, farewell cakes, gift exchanges, Halloween dress-ups, and any number of other little events aimed at building team comradery, all designed to make the office less grueling.
At home, we are less distracted when we can handle life’s little problems as they come up and get back to work. Rather than ignoring problems, allowing them to snowball until we can no longer ignore them, then taking much more time to resolve.
Not Defined by Walls
We have discovered that indeed, we do not need walls of an office to define us. Instead, Technology can now bind us together, allowing us to meet in real-time.
Productivity software tracks project progress, reminds us of upcoming deadlines, shows managers when someone on their team is falling behind or struggling, and shows the capacity of other team members who may be able to step in and help.
Since we are digitizing the employee experience, we can now also qualify skills that are being nurtured and opportunities for improvement. Training can happen one-on-one in real-time when we first identify we need it.
Employees can find opportunities to grow specific skills, and managers can plug those into projects that will nurture their passions into proficiencies. This means companies must immediately reallocate budgets for physical office space toward technologies that now are the organization’s structural cohesion.
This evolution of business from the hard cell body of a tree – brick & mortar – to the more flexible cell membrane of an animal with the agility of a Cheetah.
A company bound by technology and talent will enable companies to grow faster, be more agile to address customer needs, and move in any direction driven by customer demand.
Stagnation should become a thing of the past. The old, stodgy, restrictive, and conformist model of the cubicles in stacks in an office building will be replaced with virtual, diverse, globally inclusive companies that foster creativity, growth, and collaboration.
What an exciting time to be in Talent!