One year nestled in a makeshift home office: what I learnt and what I want you to know

One year. That’s how long I have been nestled in my makeshift home office (note to self: open plan offices and young children don’t mix and rooms with doors are a valuable commodity).

As we start to see the collective light at the end of the global pandemic tunnel, I have reflected on what I have learnt over the past 12 months. There have been some fantastic outcomes and several things I want my clients to know. There has also been a downside; some areas I really missed, and things we will all need to “get right” as we settle into our new working world.

Things I want my clients to know:

For all of us, the rapid descent into managing and delivering via a remote workforce posed new challenges and opportunities. The following are things I want my clients to know as we deliver more from “behind the screen”.

You seem more engaged.

Over the past 10 years, I have delivered over 100 engagements solving problems with clients across various industries and geographies. The transition to “digital only meetings” highlighted one surprising fact; more stakeholders tend to show up, engage and participate. In the “old working world” it was not uncommon to have patchy in person-attendance, disruptions as people arrive late, a tendency for a few key people to control the conversation and the ever annoying “I thought we booked this room”.

The digital only meeting environment has levelled the playing field. Stakeholders are truly “present”. The shy ones in the room will raise questions or concerns via chat functionality and if people drop in/out, it is relatively seamless. This was a surprising one to me as it seems people tend to respect the digital environment far more than in person.

You make it easier for me to serve.

We have all been there. You jump on a train / bus / tram and arrive at a client office on-time. A few minutes before the scheduled start time the meeting is cancelled, and you schlep back across town. In the digital only world, the impact of this is negligible because I can immediately context switch; I can productively use that time to work on other business without leaving the office chair. Win-win right?

The other key element here is that it is far easier for me to meet with multiple clients in the day. Previously, a reasonable portion of my day was spent travelling between various client locations. The digital world means I can be in the USA at 8am, Sydney at 9am and visit 4 different clients in Melbourne by the end of the day. This creates better outcomes for my clients and is far less taxing physically and mentally; I can hear you yelling that “screen fatigue is real!” and I will touch on that soon.

You share more.

Taking away the ability for one person to be plugged into a projector and allowing multiple attendees to “share screen”, has increased information sharing from both clients and colleagues alike. People seem more comfortable in a digital world to grab the meeting microphone and share content they feel will be useful and relevant to the group. The digital realm appears to have removed the ability for one person to enforce content control.

Things I need to manage:

The digital way of working equally created challenges. The following are key things I believe my clients, my colleagues and myself will need to manage in order to maintain performance in the new way of working.

Productivity is fatiguing

The level of productivity clients and colleagues are reporting are unforeseen; people are spending more time each day in focused activities and longer time in front of a screen; with many switching on earlier and logging off later. While this short-term blip in productivity has delighted business owners and executives alike, it is not sustainable. As we move into our new working world, a blend of productive (i.e. screen) and relaxing (i.e. a coffee catch-up) time at work will be critical to maintain enduring performance, mental health and ambition.

I missed the whiteboard.

While virtual collaboration has brought us a plethora of tools to collaborate, nothing beats the ability to sporadically solve problems and spark ideas in person. In the digital world, every interaction felt planned. It had to be scheduled and involved a set agenda or focus. I found myself craving the energy and focus that only comes from collaborating in person. I didn’t think I would miss it, but I am excited to have the whiteboard back in my arsenal of problem-solving tools. I believe a blend of “digital” and “physical’ tooling will be critical to continue to foster and cultivate analytical minds.

I missed my clients and colleagues.

Pre-pandemic, I underestimated the importance of work as a social meeting place; a place where laughs are shared over coffee, in elevators or over a quick bite to eat. While phone calls, video conferences and an array of virtual social activities kept me connected with clients and colleagues, nothing can replace physical interaction and the enjoyment of spending time with someone in person. As I start to spend more time in the corporate office, I value these days for the planned and impromptu catchups, the ability to see a real smiling face and enjoy time with clients and colleagues ‘face-to-face’.

The past year has taught me that a digital working world can deliver a lot of positives; from increased engagement, information sharing and the ability to virtually travel the globe in a day. However, the new working world must also address the productivity imbalance, allow time for things to ‘take a little longer’ if it means people can socialise, and remember that often the best problems are solved ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ (maybe 1.5m shoulder to 1.5m shoulder for a little bit longer).

What do you want people to know about your working world? I am sure we have lots we can learn from each other.

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4 thoughts on “One year nestled in a makeshift home office: what I learnt and what I want you to know

  1. Great article, Todd. Just out of interest, as you mention that you miss your Whiteboard, have you tried the Microsoft Whiteboard or Mural apps by chance ?(https://intra.aspac.kpmg.com/sites/AU/businesssupport/technology/office365/Pages/whiteboard.aspx). They tend to buddy up well if you add Wacom tablet to your home office environment.

    Interesting blog from someone (non-KPMG) who has this setup at home:
    https://neetishop.medium.com/whiteboarding-on-non-touchscreen-monitor-using-wacom-pen-tablet-ctl-672-4b0dd9ba7e98

    1. Hi Wayne. Thanks for your comment and sharing the link; maybe investing in a tablet is on the horizon!

      I have tried some of the apps you mention; I think what I missed more was the ability to collaborate in an “unplanned” way (e.g. an in person discussion where we end up moving to a whiteboard to problem solve). In the ‘digital only world’ where most interactions have to be planned, it was nice to be able to problem solve “as needed” (not “as planned).

      I do agree though – a blend of both digital and physical tooling is going to be critical to make the most of our interactions and making sure all parties have the opportunity to engage and interact.

  2. Very enjoyable read Todd. I agree with everything. Thank you for sharing. Maybe a four day working week in the digital environment could address the productivity imbalance?

    1. Thanks Tara! It has been interesting to see the four day work week discussion getting more momentum, especially across Europe. What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but I do think we will need a blend of focused and social activities to maintain long-term productivity and effectiveness.

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