In the same storm, but not in the same boat

In April 2020, columnist and author, Damian Barr, posted a poem on his Twitter handle which went viral. Given below are the first few lines from the poem.

“I heard that we are in the same boat.

But it’s not that.

We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine might not be.

Or vice versa.”

Since then, this poem has got quoted several times to talk about how the pandemic affects diverse people differently – during the pandemic, the challenges faced by financially weak people are very different from those faced by relatively prosperous people. For some, the challenge is about not getting a chance to go for their annual vacations; while for many, it is about staying safe and paying bills. Similarly, the rich countries and the poor countries have had to deal with very different issues during the pandemic.

Businesses have also seen very different struggles. Some sectors such as hospitality, travel & tourism collapsed completely, while others such as e-commerce thrived. When the pandemic began, every organisation’s first thoughts revolved around the safety of employees and business continuity. Slowly, remote working became the norm.

Initially, employees were also relieved that they will be able to work from the safety of their homes. However, during the various phases of the pandemic, there were pay cuts and layoffs.

Hybrid working is the default option

Remote working has resulted in significant productivity gains for organisations. Several factors such as travel time saved, over-servicing by HR, and spending quality time with family have contributed to this. This productivity increase, flexibility in sourcing talent, and the fact that humans will have to coexist with the coronavirus for the next several years have made organisations explore the hybrid virtual model. It is almost certain that most organisations will not go back to the 100% on-site model. Many companies have already announced their plans for a hybrid model.

Anxiety and employee burnout

However, a significant percentage of employees are now feeling anxious and burnt out. McKinsey conducted an extensive ‘Reimagining Work Employee Survey’ earlier this year. According to the survey, 47% of the surveyed employees felt that the lack of clear vision by their employer about the post-pandemic world is a cause for concern and is making them anxious. A significant percentage of employees also reported being burnt out. It is a cause for concern.

Employees may want flexibility, but everyone is not in the same boat!

Employees have got used to the flexibility of remote working. They have adjusted their lives around Work from Home (WFH) or the demand of being in office 2-3 days a week.  It will not be surprising if the majority do not want to go back to the on-site model. Some may even want to change jobs if asked to return to a full-time office.

While a large majority will prefer more flexibility, there may be significant differences in preferences amongst employees with kids, those with no kids, and youngsters starting their careers. Some may prefer to spend more time on-site as they may want to learn from social interactions and forge connections, while others may not. Also, there is likely to be Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) amongst those employees who choose to work from home. They may feel (and quite correctly) that if they are out of sight, they may be out of mind as well. They may miss out on being assigned to the best projects.

There is no one size fits all solution.

So, what does all this mean for the organisations? Most managers are used to their team members being in the office. Indeed, they have now been re-trained to support, manage, and assess their teams in the WFH paradigm. However, the Hybrid model may throw up new challenges. The big questions for managers will be –

  • Will they be able to do justice to the effort and contribution of employees who choose to work from home compared to those who come to the office?
  • Can they adjust their leadership style to cater to the requirements arising out of diverse options by employees?
  • Can they ensure that the team stays connected and cohesive?
  • How will they resolve the interpersonal conflicts between those who may experience FOMO and those who want special treatment because they are physically present in the office?

One thing is clear – there is no one size fits all solution. There are several different types of Hybrid office options that organisations will need to choose from. What will work for one organisation may not work for the other. Therefore, they are likely to resort to experimentation and adjustment to arrive at the solution that works for them.

Employees at all levels will need clarity on how they should behave, work together as teams, and bond with each other. Most organisations have trained their employees to work remotely, but they may still have to organise more training to adapt to the Hybrid model.

The pandemic has created a unique challenge for businesses, where talent is in the same storm, but over the last one and a half years, they are now in different boats of various shapes and sizes. However, it has also allowed them to source talent unavailable earlier due to locational constraints. How they balance the challenges and opportunities will decide who wins the talent war.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Pradeep Wadhwa
Co-founder & Principal at Kritical Edge Consulting
Pradeep is a seasoned communications professional, having witnessed both the client side as well as the consultancy side of life (in equal measures) for close to two decades.

Fortunate to be part of building and protecting reputation of leading organisations and brands across a variety of industry verticals, he has recently founded his unique C-Suite Consulting firm, Kritical Edge.

Previously he has worked in leadership roles with ReNew Power and PepsiCo India among other roles.

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