Author: Geoff Lorigan
A big insight that arose from my New Year reflections relates to work-home boundaries and their impact on team culture, employee resilience, and spillover effects on work engagement.
The concept of boundaries took me quite a few years to get my mind around. Then one day when I was staying down at our historic Stone House Cottage in Arrowtown, the penny finally dropped. I noticed how overseas tourists would often wander in from the footpath and walk around the cottage taking photos and selfies, just as if the cottage was a public museum. So then I decided to install a small historic gate — which to my amazement did the trick. Interestingly, it’s easy to slip around the side of the gate, or even open the gate, but no one does. Just signalling there is a clear boundary is all that is needed.
Looking at the boundary concept through a wider metaphorical lens, the gate separates the public-private domain. The front door separates the private-personal domain. The bedroom door separates the personal-intimate domain. Without these boundaries, we would be complicit in aiding and abetting boundary breaches. Not only do “good fences make good neighbours”, like Robert Frost, the poet, once put it, but “clear boundaries create constructive relationships and compelling team cultures”.
During the Covid period, everyone around the world was forced to stay at home and work from their lounge, study, or bedroom. Communications at an interpersonal and group level have been achieved through the deployment of video conferencing tools such as Zoom and the likes.
As a consequence employees enjoyed the personal benefits of cutting out lengthy commuting time and not having to get dressed up for work. Some employees have even shifted their homes to small towns out in the countryside and now operate as if they are freelancers. As a consequence, many employers have decided to save on office rental and many CBD buildings are now half-empty (much to the chagrin of property owners, cafes, city retailers, and Uber drivers).
This new way of working works perfectly well for those conducting independent work such as software coding which can be outsourced cost-effectively from the global freelancer talent pool. However, where teamwork is required, working remotely over Zoom ultimately zaps Mojo, interpersonal relationships, team dynamics, and co-creative innovation.
In the short term, the productivity of engaged employees can rise significantly, but over time the risk of burnout is amplified. Those who mask their ambivalence or disengagement can now hide behind their privacy photo and spend much of their time doing private activities. One person I know spends at least 50% of their work-paid time project managing their private property development initiatives.
Over time, there will be many lessons learned and insights gained from the ongoing lockdowns. One being the importance of having a Plan B and being prepared for operating virtually at a moment’s notice if or when further lockdown periods arise.