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Post pandemic what does ‘ideal worker’ even mean?

(EDITORIAL) A global pandemic has forced companies to challenge their thinking around what an ideal worker looks like, and if the office is that important.

office life and ideal worker

“As a smart person once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. Let’s not waste this one. Instead, let’s work together to ensure that a silver lining of this vast and frightening pandemic is a new definition of the worker as someone who’s ambitious, focused, and committed—but who must also balance work obligations with caregiving responsibilities. When 30 million kids are out of school, employers can’t just ignore that.”

There’s an incredible explanation of the fallacy of the ideal worker that dates back to the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s) in this Harvard Business Review article.

Many of us have been looking far and wide for the bright side on this whole COVID-19 aka Global Pandemic aka Coronavirus situation. No commute! No spending $15 on lunch because you added guacamole and a drink! No business casual (at least on the bottom, wink)! No rushing out the door with wet hair! No excuses not to work out or cook at home (ok, for some this has been a great time to make homemade sourdough bread…that might not be happening for many of us too.)

In groups of friends and co-workers that are still safe and healthy, there has been lots of discussions about how hard this has been (moving fully to remote work while also losing childcare) which makes sense because we are grieving our old ways of living. At the same time, there’s a sense of gratitude that we are home and safe and we’ve put pressure on ourselves to adapt and adjust as quickly as we can for our livelihoods depend on it.

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For those that haven’t lost their job in the swift drop in the economy, workers can rejoice that they’ve done it! They learned new software tools (or at least different ways to use them like Zoom, MS Teams, Slack, FaceTime and now Google Meetups and possibly Facebook Rooms), they made meetings happen with children and/or pets on their laps, they were able to keep their composure in front of the camera (many tears shed off camera) and most likely, complete their highest priorities and projects.

It is time to re-define the Ideal Worker as well as office life and move away from the late 1700s and acting like we don’t have both parents working out of the home. Can we please accept that the old school requirements of being in an office 8:30am-5pm (or earlier and later) doesn’t necessarily depict a dedicated, competent, reliable worker? Can we please re-define the work week? We’ve now experienced that by letting people work remotely, they (statistics prove this) are actually more productive and work more. What if (bear with me), we didn’t worry so much about time punching but clearly outlined work responsibilities, projects and timelines and trusted our employees to complete them.

This is a big task to ask, no doubt. This may put a lot of additional strain on managers if they are not equipped to deal with their teams in a virtual environment. This would require everyone’s communication styles (phone, email, IM or a meeting) being addressed up front because as we work on teams, if we all worked whenever we felt like it or it worked around our those we care for (children, elderly parents, community members), it may be difficult to connect and/or get on the same page.

An idea here wouldn’t be to go all the way to completely random work schedules but what if there were some hours agreed upon the team that you would be online and available? But other than those set hours, you could figure out your work style and the hours that you are most productive to complete your tasks. Would this then allow you to also get in your exercise, self-care and all those things that provide you with joy and allow you to rest and rejuvenate from work?

Many in the corporate world have felt for years that there are too many meetings but what if a regular meeting was set to check in, review and discuss issues and always more focused and fuller of purpose and intent. What if you threw out the 40 hours/week requirement (gasp, we know most of us are working more than that anyway)?

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Would we be trading in our current expectations and get more than we asked for if we just took the rails off the whole office culture? We may find that we have become so accustomed to this system (where we basically block off our schedules and give our work boundaries certain time of the day) that it would be difficult to blur the lines of work and home too much more.

Right now, they’re are all jumbled, and it seems many are looking forward to sorting them out. There are lots of companies asking themselves these questions as they look to bring people back to office spaces. You may argue that the “water cooler” conversations are a waste of time, but for some people that is part of what brings them joy to work and they love connecting and discussing ideas with their colleagues.

Managers, Directors, CEOs, COOs, etc., I’m begging you to ask your employees what works well for them and really try to put your people first as you plan your steps forward. Yes, profits are necessary and revenue matters, but this has been a traumatic experience and you must take care of your people first. You may find that the majority are fine coming back to the office if they are allowed to have a little bit more flexibility in hours to meet the other demands of life (and missing traffic never hurts).

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Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

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  1. Pingback: Who will get to work from home once COVID-19 stay-home orders are over?

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