One of the biggest fallouts of social distancing was the large-scale implementation of work from home (WFH) round the world. Almost every desked worker is now confined to their homes, only occasionally stepping out for essentials.
No-more-office coupled with the closure of public spaces, means that we are now turning to our at-home interactions for a sense of community, support, and recreation. This inevitably bleeds into our professional interactions as well.
Talking to one’s colleagues from home during a lockdown is very different from a scheduled audio/video meeting in a pre-COVID-19 world. We check up on how the other person is doing, share a glimpse into our everyday experiences, and leave off the conversation with a reassuring note. Even when the core subject of the conversation is work, we are acutely aware of how the lines between personal and professional get blurred during WFH.
And this might be a good thing.
Before the pandemic, video conferencing was viewed as a highly structured communication channel – you’d need to schedule it, read up for it, dress for it, and prepare detailed minutes of the meeting afterwards. Today, video conferencing is a far more informal – or even enjoyable – activity. Social media has exploded with tweets where professional take a candid look at this new form of workplace communication.
“Massive respect to my co-worker who dialled into a video call smartly dressed in a nice shirt and well-chosen tie then walked off mid-conversation to get rid of his dog revealing he was naked from the waist down,” tweets a UK-based engineer.
Someones else writes, “Working from home is not an ideal time for your youngest child to push your computer off the sofa and smash the screen to smithereens, but at least now I know why they don’t employ more babies to work in offices.”
Indeed, video calls during WFH open up opportunities to get to know our colleagues a little better, adding a refreshing element of personalisation. With WFH becoming the new normal, we are less likely to do formal wear, might combine an ongoing, lengthy call with other activities, and take a break to attend to domestic obligations. This provides unique insights into our colleague’s personal lives – at a level that’s impossible in an office.
This could be why employees are so enthusiastic about WFH in the first place. 3 in 5 employees in the US are confident about their ability to do their jobs if they were to WFH definitely.
COVID-19 and WFH are rewiring our professional relationships as we know it. It now is impossible to ignore an employee’s personal, at-home contexts – in fact, most of us are curious, interested, and eager to help out. Ultimately, this personal element makes conversations more engaging and enjoyable. In this less formal climate, employees won’t be worried about turning up a few minutes late or removing all domestic distractions.
As a result, we will actually look forward to meetings – as a space for meaningful collaboration and as a break from the necessary isolation we are currently experiencing.