We were all happily enjoying life, going to work, going on holiday, visiting friends, when all of a sudden the Coronavirus came along. Now we are ‘self isolating’ going into ‘lock-down’ and washing our hands ten times a day. We’ve stopped shaking hands, we can’t go anywhere in crowds and the supermarkets have run out of loo roll.
Stockmarkets are crashing on the assumption that economies are going to grind to a halt. If nobody can go to work any more, the world will come to a standstill…or will it? It’s true that factories may have to close if the workers are stuck at home, but there are millions of jobs that don’t involve hands-on tasks. We are now a ‘knowledge economy’ where the majority of people work with their brains and not with their hands. They process information in one form or another, almost always electronically.
So why do people need to go into an office in a town/city centre to work, when they can sit at home and perform the same tasks? If we want to stop Coronavirus spreading, the first thing we should do is to have all those office workers stay at home. With a laptop and a broadband connection the majority of knowledge workers could happily sit at home for a month and still work. They may miss the coffee-machine conversations and the staff restaurant catering, but they will find they can get the job done in much less time. They save the hassle of commuting and the interruptions of the open-plan office and improve productivity in the process.
Managers will find, much to their surprise, that their staff continue to do the work without needing constant supervision. People understand what needs to be achieved in their jobs and they get down to work without needing to ‘clock in’ at the office. They find ways of sharing information without having to be together in a meeting and quickly realise that many of the regular meetings they attend are actually a waste of time. When they need to have a face-to-face conversation they use Skype and find it’s just as good as being in the same room.
Fast-forward to the end of the crisis and what happens? Staff are now used to avoiding the hassle of commuting to the office and don’t see why they need to revert to the old pattern of work. They have discovered a whole new way of getting things done that was denied to them before. Managers realise that they don’t need to stand over people to motivate them, letting them get on with the job is actually more productive. They just start to worry about what their role really is in this new world. If people can get on with the job and produce results without needing to be under their gaze, what is their added value?
The answer is that they convert from being managers to leaders. They stop telling people what to do and start supporting and encouraging them. The organisation’s culture moves from ‘command and control’ to ‘trust and empower’. Employee engagement soars as people repay that trust. Productivity increases as people now work more effectively and are less stressed. The rush hour traffic disappears, we improve the environment and help the planet to survive. Maybe Coronavirus will do us all a favour.