At this time of year, I commonly write a review of the lessons of the year and an outline for work ahead. This year we will pass on the prospective view as the chaos continues apace. However there is value to reflect on what we learned in 2020.
The Work Works
After years of arguing over flexibility and digital work tools, we embraced them when we needed them. We embraced them fast. Everyone is now a working from home expert, ring light included. Compelling work- & strategy-based rationales for change in work processes matter. The best rationale is a need to get the work done or to do it demonstrably better. No matter how or where we work we still need to Connect>Share>Solve>Learn, Adapt & Innovate.
We will be working in new ways for a long while to come. The next phase of making work work will be the gradual adaption of work processes, rituals and routines to the new Covid-normal. Organisations will need to let creativity flourish to complete the adaptation. At the same time, we will need to be inventive to tackle the challenges of fatigue, lack of connection, lack of context, exceptions and broken flow.
To make work work, leaders will need to lead, the verb not the noun. In a remote world, passive leadership is nothing and purely rational leadership is useless. Leaders who want their teams to succeed will need to support their teams across the breadth of their lives, emotions and collaborations. We need to allow people to take their whole self from work (especially at home). Fostering connection and effective digital leadership in each member of the team and collaboration in their internal and external relationships is the new challenge. We will need to leverage their extraordinary talents.The world is too complex for simplicity, certainty and set and forget.
We’ve gone from digital to digital first to digital always. We’ve held on by the skin of our teeth to make the work work in 2020, but in 2021 we are going to find the pace of change accelerates. Born Digital processes and solutions survived the shocks and bumps of 2020 better because there wasn’t an analogue component to be locked out, broken down, distanced or isolated.
Digital always is planning for more than just a narrow single digital path or process. It’s ensuring that all the workflow, every exception and every communication can be captured digitally. That means recognising that people differ and preferences vary. Digital always supports all the necessary paths.
As we transform our work to work as digital always, we will also make smarter decisions on when face-to-face mattters. We will treasure our moments of presence and human connection more as we did in 2020. We can work more to avoid routine and still find joy in the little human moments. We will learn to better value these moments and the people who work to bring them to life.
All The Feels
If you’ve followed the roller coaster of this blog this year, it’s been far less about the future of work. Much of the year has been a process of processing experiences and emotion out loud. Much of it feelings of loss. I never expected that the most popular post on this blog by some margin would be one that captured a zeitgeist of fatigue.
The feels aren’t going away. They are here to stay. They are a key part of our human potential. While it won’t be easy, we will be better not to pretend that everything is rational, safe and OK when it’s actually confusing, scary and unsettling. We need to give ourselves some latitude to tend to ourselves and our lives. We can also bring some understanding, love and compassion to others as they struggle to do the same.
In a year when our health was threatened and extraordinary humans went to work to protect and save us it became so clear that being human works, or at least it can when we rise about the petty and the individual to focus on the power of community and human agency at work. Our messy unrealised human potential is more critical than ever to our futures. No magical blockchain, AI, digital process or algorithm is coming to save us or kill us. They serve our humanity.
I promised I wouldn’t make predictions, but I have. There are difficult days ahead. There always are. However, we have reserves of potential individually and together that will help us to adapt. I want to thank everyone for being such a support this year as I and we struggled through. We have a lot to learn and even more work to do. However we will do it together, even if apart for now.
Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season and much rest, relaxation and celebration. May your future be closer than it appears.