The idea of ‘room 101’ is well known. It was invented in George Orwell’s book, 1984. It was apparently named after a conference room at the BBC in the UK where George Orwell had to sit through tedious meetings. In recent years it has been a TV show around the world called ‘Room 101’ where celebrities throw away their least favourite things.

We have seen our standard ways of working and processes put on hold for the last two months, we’ve had no choice but to create new ways to get our work done.  Some of our previous habits will return however others will be lost for ever.

The future is incredibly hard to predict my son keeps asking me when he can play for his football team again, which is really anyone’s guess. But what is easy to predict is that this way of working isn’t going away. Either in the short term or then as business as usual. It is vital to get ahead of this, look at what you have created and what you will keep. Most if not all companies will keep a larger population of staff working from home than ever before, some staff will demand it.  So, this is here to stay, it will continue to have a fundamental impact on the way we work and do business.

Thoughts should now be turning towards what we keep of both the old and the new, what should we be throwing in Room 101?

It is not as simple as a choice between moving people back into offices (even if we could safely) or having them all work from the comfort of their homes.  It’s often scaled down to this point as either one or the other or a combination of the two, but the reality is that either working from home or bricks and mortar really is only part of the equation.

Looking at some of the new ways in which we are now working, they have little to do with if we’re at home or in the office.  But there are some interesting factors to consider.

We are making better use of technology, although it is worth pointing out that generally we have always had them available to us.  Good examples include collaboration and video calls/conferencing which have long been in a companies repertoire but are now seen as go to resources.

Meetings are now far more efficient as video or voice calls than face to face, they generate far  higher quality outputs.  Face to face meeting are generally dominated by the loudest voice or the most senior person in the room but virtual meetings allows quieter, more introvert types more of a say allowing a far wider gathering of quality information often missed by large groupings in a room.  These benefits are achieved without even considering that there is no travel, no environmental impact and no cost of a physical location.   

I have long held a view that getting the job done in a timely manner is the most important metric rather than when or where that individual did that work, if they choose to do it between 8pm and midnight or 9am and lunch time surely this is irrelevant.  Clearly if you require colleagues or collaboration then individuals need to be flexible to each other’s needs but if they do this work in the office or their own garden does that matter to the outcome required.  Having said this for the foreseeable future the need to be flexible is a must, yes we need to be completing required work but instead of deciding on the priority of one customer or the other, for a number of people, their kids maths or supporting a neighbour now also comes into the equation.

In Mental Health week it may sound obvious, but it is hard enough to be aware of burnout or a colleague that needs some support when you see them regularly. It required a skilled leader to do this.  Often simply spotting the need and giving a little tap on the shoulder offering support would really help.   Now with most colleagues in a work from home model you can’t see them let alone offer that helping hand.  Smart companies are innovating to protect their most value assets, their colleagues.  One of the more creative ways to do this is a company that attempted to ensure their staff took suitable time off but found their dedicated staff wouldn’t take the time and preferred to keep working but at the detriment of the output. They decided to create a four day week, mandating that Fridays were holidays for all staff.  This is perhaps extreme for some companies but the way of thinking is logical given the change in working environment.  A slightly softer but also effective idea that a number of companies have taken up is banning internal calls on a given day to ensure their staff had required time to think, work and be creative.  And this is the heart of it, the desired outcome should be that, giving people the opportunity to think, work and be creative.  Getting to that will of course differ by company.

Managing your cultural identity in these difficult times is harder and more crucial than ever. If this slips your individual and business performance will fall across all your key performance indicators.  This extends beyond this current period and will remain into your chosen state going forward.  So, what steps should we be going through to ensure we throw the right things in Room 101? I’ll come to that shortly. 

Room 101 entries will vary but for me I have two very specific entries.  Both if I am honest aren’t new ideas rather, but we now have proof that they in no way inhibit rather enhance the productivity and value employees can offer companies.

Firstly, I will be throwing 9-5 firmly away, something I have longed for as far back as I can remember, the quality of your output as long as it’s appropriate to the required timing should be the only factor worth considering. We are already seeing customers are being far more respectful of suppliers, with both being far more respectful of their employees.

Secondly, I would throw away the lack of allowance for employees to make decisive decisions.  Giving employees empowerment is widely accepted as a way of encouraging creative thinking, fostering greater ownership, and seeing higher levels of motivation.  By allowing this companies will see productivity soar and they will be in position to outperform their peers.

We need a way to ensure our thinking and decision making on the options are strategic and do not merely consider the current position or are against a previous position just to be different.  Look out for part two of this blog that will provide ways to support both how to think more broadly on the options and what the decision making criteria should be. 

After all, throwing something into Room 101 will have a long term consequence, which will most certainly take some amount of time to reverse if required.

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