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Have we seen the death of Presenteeism?

If there is such a thing as a good thing to come out of the COVID pandemic, surely this is it?

No one used to bat an eyelid if someone in the office went out for a 5 minute cigarette break or had a five minute chat whilst making a coffee. Now our breaks include taking the bins out or hanging the washing out. It’s the same thing but different right? Would you frown upon your homeworkers for taking the bin out in work time? What’s the difference? There is an argument that you may be having a 5 minute break or making a coffee whilst talking to a colleague, but is this “work time”. Why are we monitoring hours worked anyway?

There have been reports of employees made to be on Zoom with their camera’s on for 8 hours a day. Words truly fail me. Trust, where is it? It’s the worst form of micromanagement and a question to ask is what this says about the culture of that organisation. If this is how they treat their people, what about their customers?

It was certainly the case before the pandemic, but even more so now, we have to get away from the culture of “if we can’t see you, you are not working” or “you must be logged on between 9-5”. Welcome to 2021. A manager once expressed concerns to a friend of mine who works in HR that they weren’t sure if a member of their team was working all their hours. He was asked if that person was completing all their tasks. The answer was yes and my friend told them “that is how we manage now, output not inputs”.

I have spoken to quite a lot of recruiters over the last couple of months, there is certainly an expectation from the vast majority of candidates now that there will be a significant element of remote working in future roles.

When restrictions ease, some organisations want their staff back full time. Some staff don’t want to and some don’t see why they should. They feel they have proven they can work effectively and productively remotely. On the flip side, there are companies that I am close to saying they now want a fully remote workforce, but their middle managers don’t seem to getting this, and neither do their staff, who are expecting and wanting to be “back to normal”.

A lot of work still needs to be done and whilst I don’t have the answers, organisations are seeing a change to downsize workspaces, give more time back to their people and even improve their carbon footprint. The offset to this is the impact this may have on employees and their Mental health. What works for one, might not work for the other and that’s the problem. One thing that is evident though is:

Remote working has offered a new sense of freedom to so many people. No long commutes on crowded trains, no sitting in traffic jams, time to take the children to school, no setting alarms for silly o’clock to be able to get to the office on time, and certainly one for me, no longer travelling 2 or 3 hours and back for a 1 hour meeting. I could go on and I am sure you can think of your own examples.

However, remote working also presents problems. It can widen inequalities, leave people feeling isolated and can damage team working, challenge morale, and productivity. One of the biggest issues has been how we can ensure we can separate work from home when it is taking place in the same space? How can we ensure we are not “always on”?

This is leadership and management challenge that we are all still getting to grips with and building the plane as it takes off. It’s a subject we are sure to here and earn a lot more about in the coming months and years.

But one this is for sure. Work is no longer a place we go, it’s a thing we do.

Your thoughts as ever appreciated.


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