It’s unimaginable how we've started working our gut’s out in the last two years. In many organizations where I wonder around (often physically again these days) I notice that production has gone up. The efficiency of working seems unprecedented. Whereas before the corona era, employers were sometimes wary of productivity if employees worked a lot from home - because who knows, they all might start doing other things then work - nowadays there is perhaps even a greater fear of whether the high productivity of working from home can be maintained at the office.
In the past two years, I have worked endless hours at home: without anyone noticing, I went through a pregnancy (a growing belly is not usually visible through a laptop camera); I entertained my daughter, who was 3 years old at the time, during the first lockdowns; I delivered a wonderful babyboy; and I worked a lot.
Need for Connection
The reason I worked so much has a lot to do with the need for connection. Work is a social construct, social constructivism is a learning theory that assumes that people themselves give meaning to their environment and that social processes play a prominent role in this. Knowledge is constructed by each person in their own way, whereby they are strongly influenced by the reactions and opinions in the social environment.
When this social environment is largely absent, because the "coffee machine talk" disappears, the "5 minutes before the meeting starts" moments fade away, the spontaneous brainstorming at the desk no longer takes place, the brief chat during lunch no longer takes place, and walking together to the bicycle / car / bus / train is no longer an option, then the meaning-making fades to a relatively one-sided event. When all moments for deep connection - outside of the often substantive Teams or Zoom meetings - are lost, a gap in knowledge development, innovation and signification is created. While physical isolation only increases the need for connection!
Impact of working from home on identity, commitment and culture
The two professors Eva Knies and Albert Meijer, and Noortje van Amsterdam associate professor, all at Utrecht University, already investigated in October 2020 what impact working from home has on identity, engagement and culture. Their main conclusions were that the value of 'real' encounters should not be underestimated, that physical space is a place to feel connection; and that it is important to monitor the well-being of employees - health is more important than productivity.
As we enter a new era of working partly from home and partly on location, I have resolved to take these recommendations very literally. I do this in my own work context by telling the colleagues I work with what I need to be connected, entrepreneurial and energetic and asking them how that works for them. In my case, that's physical meetings; taking space to continue talking after the meeting; ‘objectless cups of coffee'; and occasionally organizing a brainstorming session on how to tackle something in the project we're working on.
All of this takes time, of course. Time that I used very efficiently in the corona era. I am convinced that this inefficient time consumed on leasurely connecting is enormously enriching for me personally, but also in the bigger picture. In my work as an organizational consultant, I want to center this theme of being energetically connected to our work more often. Perhaps having that conversation in itself is an intervention that leads to connection. In any case, I will take up the experiment and bring an ode to the inefficiency of working life.