In business and politics, the first 90-100 days is often considered a “honeymoon period” during which the new employee, including a CEO or President, is given a grace period. During the initial stages of the pandemic, almost everybody reported incredible performance by people and companies.
- Most employees adapted to working from home quickly; for the majority of people, productivity actually improved compared to normal
- Management consultants, like McKinsey, and business and popular media, reported that companies made transition to the lockdown in record time. Three examples:
- A hospital went from 200 telemedicine visits in 2019, to 5000 a week, a goal it had estimated would take years.
- A company running movie theaters when forced to close down decided to retrain 1000 users and ticket sellers to work for an online grocery, and accomplished the goal in only two days.
- Best Buy, which spent months testing curbside delivery at a handful of stores, rolled it out in every store in two days.
There are many reasons for the short-term success. CEOs with whom we work asked if this was sustainable, and we brought to their attention that it might not for lots of reasons, including one underlying the “Hawthorne Effect”. Years ago, in a study on ways to increase productivity, everything that the researchers did to improve working conditions in a factory had a positive effect on worker productivity. Wondering how it could be so good, they then started removing them; productivity continued to increase, until the removal of extra and then normal lighting made the room so dark it all came to a screeching halt. Conclusion: people who know they are being watched and want to please the observers, will do what they can to impress them.
In the short term, we’ve watched this happen. Juggling work and family conditions (e.g., support, schooling, etc.) is stressful, but short-term we mobilized to do it. Working conditions at home weren’t ideal (e.g., our “desk” was a table sticking out of a closet), but we adapted to the conditions. However as we start planning for the next set of months, it’ll be a different reality: we are no longer in the “fight-back” mode but in the “creating a new life mode”. We need more comfort, more support from other people, to make it through the next stage. Expect lots of changes in how we manage space, time, multiple business, family and personal goals during the intermediate stage.
Leaders with whom I work are focusing now on the long-term. We’re not going back to the pre-pandemic office situation. Company leaders are trying to figure out how to allow people to adapt to the new distributed workforce model. Spatially, it means working from home, office and pods on whatever basis makes sense for the person, customer, technology, etc. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to work in an office full-time in the future, nor do they want to commute and travel for business when alternatives exist. The nature of business, family, personal expectations for life fulfilment are all playing a role in determining the after-the-pandemic world.
More important, we need to focus on long-term job satisfaction, professional growth, creativity and innovation. We need to adapt new models for increased collaboration between members of teams and teams-of-teams in a world of greater self-management and ongoing change. Steve Jobs’ last major accomplishment was leaving Apple with a new California campus designed to spur spontaneous encounters, and encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation. Shaped like a donut, people could bump-into-one-another on the way to common areas, and begin conversations that could generate new ideas, products and services. Today’s work-from-home, ”Zoom to communicate” world, lacks that opportunity for spontaneous exchange and ideation – keys to innovation. Long-term success depends on our ability to build structures that will address this issue.
What do you think we can do to ensure long-term success? Share your ideas!