On Friday 2nd July Mayvin hosted the latest session of our group inquiry in to new patterns of working. During the event we experimented with a new technique, prompted by Sarah Fraser asking the question – What if we could do an open space session over Zoom?
For our first breakout session we allocated participants in to small groups for 10 minutes to discuss - What are you in the middle of? What are the issues you’re grappling with right now? We then came back to plenary and asked participants to provide questions they had the most energy for i.e. they’d like time to discuss.
We selected 5 questions to be the topics of 5 breakout rooms and enabled participants to select which room they went to and to move freely between the rooms over 30 minutes. Open Space 'Light'.
Below are the 5 questions and a summary of the discussions that occurred in those rooms.
1. How do we maintain team cohesion?
Interestingly no-one went to this room throughout the session.
2. How do we reconcile the needs of the organisation and individual?
The answer is, we don't know. But we talked at length about the things that would need to be considered. In essence: culture and mind shift. If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always get, so get off the merry go round.
We need to align with the business needs going forward, recognising there is business to be done, what's the best way to deliver that business? In a way that builds on what we've learned, builds on the benefits gained in lockdown and working virtually, but recognising that sometimes the old ways are the right ways.
We challenged - have organisational needs not been met in the last 16 months? Generally they have. Productivity often up, commuting time down, and well-being up as a result. But emotional needs perhaps not met? Which could be a benefit of coming together in person.
Right place for right kind of work, rather than assuming the office is always the right answer to that.
3. How do we support managers and leaders, what is their role and how can they work creatively with their teams to develop new ways of working?
The approach to supporting managers and leaders in different work patterns, and going into a hybrid world should be purpose and value driven and outcome focused. So that people can focus on what is really going to matter, what is going to make an impact.
Managers and leaders are also going through change, so we need to give them time and space to work through this change, so that they can mange and lead in the right way. They don't have all of the answers, we're all learning, everyone is on a change curve at the moment, so we should not be expecting them to be 100% correct and have all the answers all of the time.
What the manager's role might look like going forward is focusing on coaching & enabling, to support people to do their roles.
4. How do we manage emotions/ reaction to the changes? People have different levels of disclosure, where do we take it?
Noticing people’s personas have changed in the last 18 months, we seem to have adopted a more emotional language than previously. Does this demonstrate a growth in emotional awareness or have we just become more adept in using that language? Have other things that have happened in the last year introduced a more emotional language or at least contributed? Particularly Black Lives Matter? The need for emotional intelligence has shifted but has it in practice?
This all has implications for line managers. There's a sense that some managers are feeling overwhelmed and deskilled in this area.
Has the breakdown of hierarchy through virtual working contributed to the shift in persona and emotional intelligence?
Some research is starting to come out suggesting that working from home has been beneficial to those of BAME backgrounds within their organisations, they've felt more effective and more comfortable.
Boundaries have changed, which can be very emotive, it can be difficult to handle the emotions around a shifting boundary. People in different roles or being at different levels of the hierarchy might mean different levels of autonomy and power about managing those boundaries.
There can be a generational element as well, some people of an older generation have been feeling deskilled, and feel younger colleagues are talking a different language. Technology as a barrier to working as well as a benefit?
5. What makes an effective place to work, what’s the space/ the place?
There's an underlying assumption that if we are all in the same space we work better, we are more collaborative, cohesive and social.
This assumption needs to be challenged as pre-pandemic we had dysfunctional teams, bullying, harassment etc.
What makes an effective place is deeper conversations, more honest conversations and being able to challenge practices that have become habits. In the rush to get back to the office we are assuming once we are back in the same room together everything will be fine.
We need to create the conditions, deliberately for the space to work. This applies to both the work place and working virtually.
Promising practices - how do you share those?
Principles around flexibility not policies.
Is this a real opportunity to reimagine work and the work place?
Where are the conversations about environmental factors – commuting, travel etc.
Instead of the work place - the workshop, coming together for a particular purpose. People coming together as and when they need to be around a piece of work.
This session was a really useful way to hear different perspectives, and shows the power of coming together from different sectors.
We are coming out of the pandemic with a fundamental shift in feeling and emotion, employers are underestimating this, the central challenge of the emotion.
We've come through the worst of this pandemic, but we know that we will need to continue to live with covid and we are anticipating a flu epidemic this Autumn. So the new normal is learning to live with killer bugs and viruses. NHS work programme - Beneficial Changes: how do we harness what we've learnt, what can we continue to build on, do things differently and better. This is the task for employers.
We will be continuing this group inquiry with some story telling ahead of our next community webinar which will take place after the summer holidays in September.