Crossing the Digital Rubicon

Crossing the Digital Rubicon

The Covid-19 lock down disrupted the workplace in a way no one could ever have imagined and amongst the chaos and fight for survival that many companies are still facing, this crisis has created the biggest “learn by experience” opportunity ever seen.

The introduction of radical new ways of working are normally carefully planned and consulted upon with those “impacted” so as to engage and ensure buy in etc. This was not the case with the en masse move to millions of people working from home happening at the virtual flick of a lock down switch. There was no choice, no lead in, no engagement or consultation, we all just had to get on with it.

Digital Transformation was forced on millions at the flick of a lock down switch

Of course some businesses were more able than others to make this move to virtual, dispersed working and peoples’ situations were also different meaning some were able to respond well and others less so, but what we immediately saw were people and teams doing what human beings do so well; adapting, learning and sharing, with much of this being enabled by digital technology. There has also been a much higher tolerance to mistakes and ‘messiness’ than usual because we all have our “look after each other” and “be kind” switches turned on. This is creating a different and I think more positive, enabling culture.

When reflecting on this I realised that we are, in many ways, all being more ‘agile’. I know some people will balk at this suggestion, but agile is based around a set of values and principles and the transition to this (imposed) new way of working and the adoption curve that people have been and continue going through is a great example of how well people can adapt and not just survive, but also thrive when change and challenge are presented, especially when everything happens so quickly that people have to be trusted because there simply isn’t time to write loads of new rules to control every new permutation of work being tried and adopted.

This whole episode is massively unsettling to command and control leaders who can no longer demand attendance to assure themselves that people are working and, as a result, many people will be experiencing the liberating feeling that true flexible working can offer; an integration of work and personal life rather than an artificial, often forced, demarcation of work and personal responsibilities. Work-life balance can truly become “life balance” which, on the face of it, may not seem too different, but when you begin to place your life into your day rather than fill your day with your work and completely demark you personal life; productivity, engagement, motivation and wellbeing can improve markedly.

Life balance is about placing both work and personal responsibilities into your day 

I don’t underplay what a critical time this is though, numerous businesses are in a struggle for their very survival, but there is an opportunity here that should not be missed. As we settle into a new normal (settle may be the wrong word!) leaders should encourage their teams to ‘consciously’ ride this wave and not just to reactively “survive it.” To look for and create opportunities for everyone to regularly reflect on what is good about these new ways of working and to also think about what really isn’t going well and why so that when we come out the other side of this we’re able to create a new working culture blending the best of the old with the best of the ‘new’.

What this all means is that during this Covid response many businesses will have found new, more productive and more socially progressive ways of working which will simply be unable to be undone, even if they wanted to and why would they? A new future of a more blended relationship between work and personal responsibilities, enabled by digital technologies is being created right now and becoming the new norm. There will be no going back,  hence the notion of people, teams and businesses crossing the digital Rubicon. The secret is out as people are realising that many of the existing default behaviours, routines and processes, associated with a Taylorism playbook, are simply unnecessary conditioned constraints from a bygone age. Expectations have changed and those expectations will become demands.

People are realising that many existing default behaviours, routines and processes are simply unnecessary conditioned constraints from a bygone age

Learn is a verb and experience can be also, but when these two combine and people learn from experience you have unleashed the most powerful change agent of all. That process is an active and considered, reflective one, so my question is, amidst the undoubted challenges; are you just experiencing what is going on, hoping things get back to “normal” as soon as possible or are you also actively learning from this experience so that you can come back stronger?

My word to the wise is that there will be a very different expectation for a very different and new ‘normal’ once this is all over, which could prove to be another big challenge for leaders who expect things to revert to how they were or even worse try to force things back to how they were.

Leaders must cross the digital Rubicon with their teams.

If you hadn’t begun your digital transformation prior to Covid-19, I can assure you that you have now, with the task ahead being not only to survive but to learn and harvest the benefits that can be gained from this disruption. leaders must consciously lead their teams across the digital Rubicon so that you and your teams are match fit for the future. A future that really can be a step change in wellbeing, efficiency and productivity.

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