Aug 24, 2022
Covid driving us all to work from home has been good for the commuter. For Tokyo, many people typically face three hours a day in lost commuting time, standing around in packed train carriages, waiting to get to their office or getting back home. That three hours is now being spent sleeping, playing with the kids, enjoying hobbies or working. One of the major dilemmas is what happens after Covid has gone or is contained? Every public opinion survey you read, says that the troops like working from home and are in no hurry to pack that morning sardine can and truck down to the office. What does that mean for leaders?
Will there be many days in a year when everyone is back in the office? Will the office have been sized down to save rent money on the basis that people won’t require desks because they have their home desk instead. If there are only going to be a few days in the year for the whole team to gather, then what happens with their relationships with each other and with the boss? Some issues are not really suited to a Zoom call with the boss. Will the staff member just keep it to themselves and let the issue fester or will they want to meet the boss and talk about it?
This is a reactive approach and maybe it is time to think about having more meals together with the team members. By setting this up as a regular cadence, the boss gets to spend one on one time with everyone in their direct reporting line, at least and maybe there are a few others selected for a chat as well. When we were all in the office this probably had no great urgency about it but we have been fled to the suburbs for over a year and a half now, so something has to give. This “temporary” situation is looking to become permanent.
Usually the work troubles are about difficult clients or difficulties with colleagues. These are always tender subject areas so the personal touch is needed and rather than a formal meeting why not have a chat over a lunch or a dinner?
The troubling thing is whenever these chance encounters pop up, you find out so much about what is going on and it is usually stuff which will never surface during any Zoom calls. Your mind starts thinking, “I wonder what else I am not across, which I need to know about?”. The well organised leader will be thinking, “Okay how can I systemise this process, so that I can take a more preventative approach to issues which will arise?”. Birthdays may be a good way of doing it. You make it the rule that you will take the person out to lunch on their birthday. This is a nice recognition element of the team culture and it also throws up the chance for conversations to be had which might be critical to the business.
That won’t be enough though, because we work around 270 days a year and that level of frequency is low. Realistically, choosing direct reports for a regular catch up over a meal is a better plan. There might be other key people who are not direct reports and inviting them for a meal may make a lot of sense. You have to eat lunch anyway and it doesn’t have to be fine dining every time, because the key element is garnering improved communication. It is also lunch time, so the trains are less crowded. It doesn’t have to be near the office, so a mutually convenient location may present itself, which cuts down on the travel.
The lunch shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. The leader has set the stage with a psychologically safe environment for the staff member to speak up if they wish. Even if nothing magical is shared, just spending time together helps to build the trust inside the organisation. I spent an hour sitting in silence in a small meeting room, waiting for the early twenties female staff member to share the problem she was having with her 50 plus aged boss. In the end after an hour she just said, “I can’t tell you the problem” and that was that. I still don’t know what the issue was, but maybe if we had gone out of the office and off to a restaurant, she may have felt more confident to open up.
We are not going to be racing back to the office by the look of it, so we need to start thinking though scenarios where we can make sure we are spending enough face to face live, not on Zoom, with our people. We have to keep in mind that there is an army of desperately stressed recruiters out there trying to keep their jobs by making their quotas for placements. They will be very happy to have lunch with our team members, if they can lift them out of our shop, clip the ticket on the way through for 40% of their first years’ salary in the new position. With a declining population and a strong demand for people, the lunch idea with you, rather than the recruiter, seems quite smart.