3 Workplace Trends That May Not Survive This Crisis

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- 4 min read

Many expert observers have made predictions about the “new normal” of work after the pandemic. Some are optimistic, envisioning a paradigm shift towards a more flexible, empowered future for workers through remote working. Others are pessimistic, even somewhat dystopian, projecting a future workplace that is disconnected and highly surveilled.

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While no one knows with certainty what the future will bring, enough time has transpired since the beginning of the pandemic that we can and should study how companies are adapting to the new reality.

Let’s focus on one key aspect: teams. For most of us, membership in – or management of – teams has become the salient feature of our day-to-day work experience in recent years. A growing number of us claim membership in not one, but several teams within our organisation.

In conjunction with the increasing focus on teams as an organisational unit, new theories and concepts around team performance have emerged and found slow, steady acceptance among practitioners.

The question is: Will this gradual evolution continue, now that COVID-19 has upended everything?

Three trends strike us as particularly vulnerable to reversal amid the panic unleashed by the pandemic.

1. Decentralization

As readers of the Corporate Rebels blog well know, organisations have been shifting towards less hierarchical and more networked ways of organising. This has been driven by rapid technological shifts, an increase in specialization, as well as more insistent demands for autonomy by highly mobile knowledge workers.

The best ideas are no longer held at the top of the organization nor can the organization wait for decisions to be made up the hierarchy. Is COVID-19 accelerating this shift by prompting leaders to decentralise more decision authority to the frontlines? Or are managers retaining (or increasing) top-down control given their reduced ability to oversee work in a virtual environment and the intense financial pressures companies are facing?

2. Psychological safety

We also note an increasing awareness about the importance of cultivating positive relational dynamics and psychological safety for fostering high-performing teams. Yet, attention to these relational dynamics often goes out the window when crises hit and performance pressure is high, even though these are the moments when team members most need support. How are teams balancing the importance of fostering connections and trust while focusing on the work at hand?

3. Agile

Finally, agile mindsets have become the talk of organisations, and crises present opportunities for firms to experiment with new offerings and make quicker decisions, in part due to necessity and also because of a reduced fear of failure. Are teams and organisations taking advantage of this opportunity?

We want to learn from you

If you are reading this post, you are probably in as good a position as we are to answer these questions. As you master new tools and adjust to changed circumstances alongside your teams, the future of work is, quite literally, in your hands.

That is why we have launched a study designed to help expose the reality behind the rhetoric of the “new normal”, as well as what distinguishes teams and organisations that are adapting well from those that are perhaps heading down a negative path. In doing so, we hope to develop insights and prescriptions for how all organisations can leverage this crisis to make work more effective, purposeful and human.

In short, we want to understand how you and your teams have changed the way you coordinate, communicate, experiment and connect with each other. In addition, we would like to find out how COVID-19 has changed the way your teams are managed and led.

Our presumption is that for some, the changes have been positive; for others, negative; and for many others, the changes have been both positive and negative.

The survey will take 5-10 minutes to complete. It includes both close-ended questions to capture quantitative data about your teams as well as open-ended questions to capture examples and stories about how COVID-19 has sparked changes in the way you and your teams work. We believe the latter are just as powerful as the former in illuminating how teams and organisations are adapting to the new reality.

Let Michael Lee (Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD) and Koen Veltman (Founder of OrganizationBuilders) know how COVID-19 has changed the way you and your team work together.

Click here to access their survey.

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Replies (4)

Tree Bressen

Tree Bressen

I start from a different premise than the pessimistic title chosen here. My theory is that in a crisis situation, existing tendencies--both good and bad--are amplified. So an organization that's already started with decentralization, for example, will move further down that road (rather than reverse), while an organization with surveillance tendencies will find new ways to do it. Strong organizational cultures will become even more cohesive ("we're all in it together"), while the cracks in dysfunctional organizations become ever wider.

I'm glad you're doing this research, and will be interested to learn the results.

| | 13 | Flag
Bernd Grasshof

Bernd Grasshof

The path forward laid out by Tree is a potential one, and it might also be the other way round. All depends on the circumstances that, as we all know, change quicker than ever.

The real question is, how do organisations that have opted for either one way and that are acting in the same space and under similar circumstances fare in these times of crises,

| | 4 | Flag
Sandra Otto

Sandra Otto

My perspective: I don't think the above three areas are really vulnerable to pre/post COVID effects. All 3 have been gradually evolving responses to the evolution towards a VUCA world AND towards a higher consciousness/developmental state of people, in this case especially of employees.
COVID is just one more (and not the last) symptom of VUCA that invites organisations, teams and individual contributors to strengthen the foundational principles required to respond adequately in this new reality: FREEDOM and consequently TRUST.

I believe many employees actually wanted these two qualities at work for a long time already (like they have it in the rest of their life). The high numbers of "corporate refugees" becoming FREE-Lancers are speaking volumes.

But our deeply engrained industrialised process- and profitability-centered system was not conscious of people as whole and powerful humans but rather utilised and limited them as mechanistic "human resources".

Over time, with or without COVID, fatigue and lack of engagement have been growing with being (micro-) managed top-down despite many leaders' vertical disconnection from grassroots and frontline work and workers.
Because innately people WANT to serve customers, colleagues and causes, but need the FREEDOM to serve them fast and creatively, and consequently require TRUST to allow for this freedom.

Looking forward to reading more viewpoints

| | 5 | Flag
Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson

Our organization has seen a mixture of reactions across our clients.

Some have used the opportunity to double down on structures that move towards more agility, while some have regressed, mostly from a sense of safety and command and control style interactions.

I have shared some stories where we have seen positive activity in terms of using agile thinking to in reaction to COVID here.


I’ll take a look at the survey, and see if I can encourage members of some of our clients to participate.

| | 0 | Flag
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