“Change was in the air. Indeed, it was air that brought it everywhere in the world”.
This could be the beginning of one of those Victorian-era books which in few lines (they were, in fact, called short stories) bring the reader in a dark reality. However, this is just the beginning of the reality we’re living and that forced on us changes affecting the ways we used to live our private, public, and professional life.
From feudalism 2.0 to value management, the impact that the CoViD19 had on the various industrial sectors is momentous. For the first time, the feudal approach of many Italian companies had to swallow a hard pill and give in to the fact that employees — and even more, consultants — do not necessarily have to go to the office to work. Besides the “non-remotizable” jobs — because they’re bound to specific infrastructures or chains of industrial production — the remainder of the “mindforce” can work from home. Their job is not to be present in the office, but to create value.
Mutatis mutandis. In this forced work from home, people had to endure endless physical and psychological stress. If being home means losing freedom to be close to the loved ones, working from home means getting bed sores and low back pains given by improvised work stations. I could quote stories of friends and colleagues camped in their bedrooms and of fathers depriving their sons of their rooms since these have a desk. The impact on the modes of operation, however, also showed ill-fated effects on some managers’ self-esteem. Without the physical dimension of the office they got deprived of the physicality needed for a leadership inspired from the agricultural labor illegal recruitment. Today, the little industrial “bosses” are stripped of the physicality gratifying their ego.
Puppets and puppet masters. Although we all make an effort to talk about “returning to normal life”, the truth is that there’s not going to be a normalcy to go back to. The new flow of events opened in front of us showed the real quality of the industrial leadership and the true value of their work. Today, the best managed teams are those supported by flexible and adaptable managers that know how to manage their resources as assets and not as puppets for the townsquare show.
Changes are never insignificant. It sounds cheap, but it’s not. Human activities rely on complex relationship and, sometimes, interaction models. This is true — and maybe truer — for companies. Changing something in these relationship models is like moving one of the cards holding up a house of cards. Change often creates effects worse than the expected edges. Please, bear in mind that I’m not speaking of those improvements aimed at the refinement of a structure. Rather, I’m speaking of real changes affecting the balance of the involved forces. Hence, changes are never insignificant and, in the same way, the change that overwhelmed us is not insignificant.
Change of direction and change of life. Since we had to stay home, company operations have changed their patterns (despite they didn’t want to) and people could experience a change in their perception of time and quality of life. The time we reclaimed from commuting allowed many to discover their own houses. Others rediscovered old passions and found new ones. At the time of writing, I’m not sure the situation will develop as I’d like it to. But I’d like to share with you, anyway, my personal vision of a future where people noticed that things can go well even as they currently are — since they leave space to a life previously absorbed from work in its whole.
Smart working — as we call it. The national lockdown created a change in our workers. Thanks to it, we now have a new species: the “smart worker”. This genetic mutation is well identified in a Nomisma research (“Lockdown. How and why our lives are changing”). They reported how, of two million of Italians working from home, only 44% want to back to the office. Basically, 56% of them argues that it’d be wonderful to work from home some days of the month.
Furthermore, I’d like you to reflect about this:
“Do you really want to bring in the office a resource that — if positive to the virus — causes a quarantine for the whole company and jeopardizes the overall health of all the employees?”.
I don’t want to go to the office today. Nomisma basically reported a mechanism that we’ve accepted for a long time in our company. My CEO always encouraged new working alternatives, both physically and in the ways we carry out the job. We consider the office (and we have some very beautiful offices) just a place where undertaking certain company rituals and that in very few cases can be useful to create value. Hence, it’s never been a problem for us to allow people work from home. You pay the bills creating value, not by going to the office.
The watchmaker analogy. But working from home was invented by those who actually are “watchmakers”. Basically, a technician that asked the simplest question in the world: “how do I replicate the company mechanisms outside the office?”. I don’t have anything against this question. It is the question that every watchmaker should ask if he/she wants to move a mechanism from the wheel of a watch to another. But this question is not complete. It only focuses on the mechanical operability of the work, it just moves the gears of a machine somewhere else. ‘Working’ is a more complex thing, that often works because the relationships, customs, and norms supporting it work too.
From “smart working” to “inclusive working”. For some months, we’ve been the guinea pigs of our own experiment. Since the lockdown, we’ve experimented with our professional habits and developed methodologies and we found out that they didn’t work anymore. The effects of the lockdown on the teams’ psychology let us realize not a production problem but an operational one. The awareness on the importance of the leadership role and the support for the team members have showed itself clearly. We have understood, as a team and as a company, that it is essential to change the entire management paradigm to move on to ways of creating relationships that can avoid the destruction of the team and the isolation of the individual members. That is why we identified new company rituals and new forms of cooperation. We undertook a path towards a methodology guaranteeing strength in operations and in relationships. Today, we’re doing what I call “inclusive working”. Only in this way a company can be worth of the challenges the future set aside.
To conclude this article, I expect that someone might complain about the fact that I did not really talk much about this new way of working I introduced in the title. However, my goal is not to give you the recipe of what we are implementing in our company and with our customers. My goal is to have you understand how we got there and how you can do it too. I’m not excluding, anyway, that this article could be followed by a second one, where I’ll tell you some more details about our great procedures.