REDEFINING THE WORKPLACE AFTER THE EVENTS OF 2020

Many of us started this year with our usual blind optimism and hope, exclaiming, ‘2020 will be my year.’ There was something about the number that felt special, perhaps it’s the repetition of a strong number like 20, perhaps it’s our instant association with optimum vision.

We chose to see it as a year that would see us reach personal goals or live out certain dreams – achieving something momentous at work, going on that dream holiday, getting a pet etc. We had no idea what was ahead of us and how our goals and plans for the year ahead would be thwarted by a pandemic, nor that the changes we would witness and/or be part of would be transformative on a worldwide scale. I’m hoping in years to come we will realise we were part of a revelation where the world began its next chapter to become a fairer, kinder and more understanding place.  I think we are aware that there is much difficulty and pain ahead, but in this instance any decent person will agree that for this chance to level the playing field, it’s worth absolutely everything! We can’t undo the injustices of history, and we should never forget them, but we can have a serious influence on the future and it’s up to us how big a part we play in shaping it.

In this blog post I wanted to explore how COVID19, and the mass reactions since the murder of George Floyd will impact our work lives moving forward. Some are predictions and queries, and some are points I wanted to make in the hope that the necessary people will read and activate them moving forward.

Working From Home

Businesses that have had the ability to carry on functioning during lockdown by instructing their teams to work from home will have learned a lot about how their businesses runs – comparison will do that. By moving out of offices (studios, locations and so on) to the confines and separate nature of people’s homes, they will  have an insight in to way they were doing things before which were impacting their profits due to costly overheads or time inefficiency.

There will also be businesses who will have long argued that people ‘need to be in the office’ who will now see that it’s not only possible but sometimes incredibly beneficial to have members of staff working from home.

So how might this impact companies and workplaces moving forward?

Many of those that have been continuing will still be going through financial strife. Their industry may have been impacted by COVID or they may have had to furlough a number of employees. Moving forward many will be looking in to ways to cut costs to ensure their survival, particularly during the recession which is likely to follow. Businesses may be looking to either scale down or completely remove overheads like mortgages and rent on office/working space and all the associated bills, at least for a while.

This change would be music to the ears of those who lose half of their pay check to commuting costs- this may mean they have more money each money to put away which might help towards many more people having savings to put towards property deposits, or simply not living pay check to pay check.

If more workplaces become flexible to working from home this could be a game changer for those with chronic illnesses which are unpredictable, and inconsistent in severity. For those that thought there was little way they could work in office based scenarios might suddenly see a way they could possibly make it work, to some degree at least. And for those that have health conditions that make going to work difficult, but due to the lack of support from PIP/ESA from the government have had to to do it anyway, might be excited by the prospect that they can now discuss with their boss the idea of  incorporating at least more flexibility when it comes to working from home. It can be draining and daunting to advocate for yourself when it comes to asking for the help and understanding you need when it comes to your health, but having evidence to back up your suggestion or plee can really help. When we are fighting to get a diagnosis, despite years of gaslighting, we feel slightly bolstered when we can go to an appointment with facts, results, evidence. This is no different. If you can show your boss that your productivity or quality of work have been equal or better from working from home, it’s much harder for them to argue against it and knowing that makes us feel more confident to initiate these conversations.

Does it work for everyone?

I’ve spoken to a lot of my friends who have been furloughed or whose work has continued but from home. I wanted to gain a breadth of reaction. Many have commented on improved mental health, the reasons varying. Some of have said not having to be in the city and on busy undergrounds has been helpful. Other’s say being in a familiar and calming space has made them feel less stressed during working hours. A couple said that a weight has been lifted not having to be around certain presences they find infuriating or toxic. Other’s have felt a greater sense of achievement because they’ve actually been able to get more done because there are less distractions.

Some found it initially hard to get themselves in a work mindset at home, although it improved in time, it just took a period of adjustment and working out what they needed to do to get’ in the zone’. A few mentioned that they realise how much they thrive off other people and the energy of a place, and how they lacked a certain spark working on their own – again this was improved by increasing the amount of conversation had with colleagues throughout the week via Zoom/Teams.

We may see some conflict if employees felt they benefited from working from home, but it’s not something that’s mirrored by the senior members of the company (or vice versa). It will be interesting to see how these scenarios are handled. A friend of mines boss keeps saying how he can’t wait to get everyone back in the office and desperately misses the social aspect, while many of the workers have felt working from home to be beneficial and fear returning to the company’s old ‘norm.’

There are of course some industries/careers that undoubtedly thrive off busy rooms, atmospheres, competition, noise, and so on. But the key point to take away from all this is flexibility. Perhaps we will see more work places asking employees whether they want the option to work from home on occasions, or perhaps split the week some how. This might mean businesses can reduce their office spaces at the very least if for example 50% are always working from home moving forward.

There are many benefits of course but with any changes we must always time to consider the possible challenges too.

I know some people miss the ‘team’ aspect. Lots of people love that corporate ethos, with team-building exercises and uniting team meetings (although many argue that the frequency of those harms their personal momentum). So if businesses do incorporate more WFH positions but want to maintain that feeling, they may need to work harder to get people to meet up regularly in person to reconnect in real life. During lockdown my partner’s company have finished early on Thursday’s to do a Zoom quiz together. I suspect we will see more things like this happening moving forward, to ensure team morale is maintained. The thing with being part of a team is you all want to play your part, and not be the one to let everyone down, so businesses will want to ensure they maintain that level of responsibility. This kind of approach to businesses encourages healthy competition which undoubtedly drives productivity/sales/performance, so there might be new ways introduced to share how everyone is doing at work if they’re not in the office to see it with their own eyes.

There is a serious side to all this that has to be considered if a workplace does decide to take some of their workforce to permanent WFH status.

A workplace can symbolise much more than a place where someone works and earns money. For some it can be the one safe place they have. It could be how they escape an abusive partner for a vital number of hours per day. It might be an integral part of their survival. We saw how the stats to helplines rose during lockdown, the facts are clear and sad to see. So again we need to ensure flexibility is there where possible, and that people have an opportunity to discuss their unique situation. But for that to happen successfully we first need to cultivate work environments that people feel confident to speak honestly within. A culture needs to be created where people feel that they can speak their truth and not only not be punished for it, but be truly listened to. I feel this is an area where many businesses have a long way to go.

For many work is an escape. This could be much needed restbite from being a parent – an ability to just be a person again and to use the skills or talents they have – to be something other than Mum or Dad. That outlet, that ability to create or be part of something that makes them feel useful in another way, might be integral to maintaining their mental health, confidence, self worth. This also might be the only time of the week they can engage in adult conversation.

For many it will be difficult, if not impossible to work effectively at home. It’s very hard to explain to kids that you’re working if they charge in to the office wanting to play (much like that infamous BBC Skype interview). If they’re young they’ll struggle to with the idea of zones and boundaries. Even if they do get it and play happily in another room, the noise may well be a distraction. Parents might also find it hard to switch off from that role when work/home lives mesh together too. It’s not just kids that can make home a tricky place to work though. Perhaps you live in a flat with noisy neighbours, perhaps the work you have to do will mean you are that noisy neighbour. Maybe you live in an area where lots of building work is happening. You may simply not have the space to create an office at home.

I wonder how many businesses will look to invest in the health of their WFH employees moving forward. Many large corporations have canteens and wellness initiatives, is this something they will find a way to make accessible to those that WFH? If employees can no longer access the work gym, mindfulness sessions, in house therapists etc will they find a way to arrange this in an alternative way. Will they allocate funding to ensure their employees are eating ( there will be many who will have relied on that meal in the same way some kids relied on their free school meals). Will they give their employees access to nutritionists to ensure they’re eating in a way that will lead to healthier employees with optimum concentration?

I know a lot of my friends who have been forced to work from home over the last few weeks have been struggling with painful necks/backs. Will companies look to ensuring their WFH employees have ergonomically minded chairs and desks, or will that be the employees responsibility?

Another element that businesses will need to consider is access to necessary equipment/technology. Those that have relied on computers permanently stationed at work may need to invest in models of their own, or transporting those machines from the office – which might not always be practical. So there needs to be decisions about whether they invest in buying employees up to date laptops for example. For everything to run smoothly working from home, reliable wifi is key too. Where people live, their provider and such might have an impact too.

If they aren’t mindful of this aspect already many businesses might have to have an increased understanding of mental health in general, ensuring they are more aware of how change in environment/behaviour can impact people differently. How do those with social anxiety cope with the increase of group video Zoom calls. How are people impacted by the fact they know longer leave their house daily to get to work? How are people effected by the lack of in-person contact?

Since lockdown we have all seen the stats about how nature has bounced back while emissions have been reduced due to our inactivity. Will business make more conscious efforts to look at how they function environmentally? Will businesses see this period as a wake up call that it’s not to late to save the planet if we all work together to make small changes? Will we hold them to more account on this front?

Will we finally achieve diversity?

One of the most exciting changes will be the fact that businesses simply won’t be able to lack diversity/inclusivity. It won’t happen to the extent we need to it to straight away, but the wheels are certainly in motion and at a higher speed than ever before.  The spotlight on these issues is stronger right now, and although we’d rather the change weren’t out of fear, shame, or guilt,  it really feels like businesses will finally be getting their act together and making sure they have Black voices, POC, Disabled, Chronically Ill, LGBTQAI people within their teams. There’s no hiding now. People are more than prepared, they’re positively eager to call those out that aren’t doing what they always should have. Those that have been called out and continue without noticeably and trackable change will be in real trouble…and rightly so.

To reiterate my last piece, I’m not sure whether a legal requirement is the way forward or not. I think we can all agree that it should be the only way a business is allowed to function, but my reservation comes from the fact that it might not mean the actual culture and opinion has changed and that they’re only making changes because it’s stipulated by law. We might need to take some time to see how much the #BlackLivesMatter revolution forces change (and genuine change), once it is no longer at the forefront of social media (and some minds).

As I write this piece, authors have started to post about the advances they received for their books – already it is clear their is huge disparity. Well known authors are being transparent too (Matt Haig for one) which will only help to escalate this particular avenue of exploration. I just scrolled on Twitter to see someone starting to do a similar audit within the blogger/Influencing community too. I imagine this kind of thing will start to be a regular feature of our process of progress. Until we know the true extent of the problem we won’t be able to start the structuring needed to make the necessary changes to pay when it comes to fairness. A few days ago I saw a tweet from an outreach PR who said she knew that her firm had played Black creators less than white creators on certain campaigns, even though many of their credentials were comparable (follower count/reach etc).

I predict in the next few months more bloggers/Influencers will start to be more transparent and vocal about what they earn in the hope that we will uncover more truths in the hope that what is learned will help us to start working towards some kind of consistency. It’s a hard industry to create a rigid pay structure, there’s lots of intricacies which need and should be taken in to account when coming up with an amount – something which I’ve detailed in many other posts – it’s not simply a case everyone under a certain amount of followers should get this amount and those with a certain greater number should get another . I don’t want to go in to this too much here as it’s a whole other issue. But from my experience alone – I have some brands thinking I’m not worthy of any payment or gifting, and others who have paid me in the thousands (as a micro-influencer who has way below 10k followers). This tells you that some brands value more than just the numbers side of things, and/or that they understand that large follower count doesn’t always convert in the way you imagine. It might be impossible to come up with standardised fees, as nuance per campaign has to be the norm, but there needs to be some way to ensure that the rate is never influenced by race…which it appears it often is.

I’ve used the word restructuring a few times in this post, and I think it’s going to be a big part of the reaction to this movement. Inevitably many businesses will have to hire and fire to ensure they’re are now more diverse and inclusive. Some people will of course take the hit , but it’s important to remember that Black people and other marginalised groups have been taking this hit forever – this is about finally creating the even playing field there always should have been when it comes to career prospects and wage. We’ve been benefiting from the situation for a long time, even if we haven’t realised it, so now is the time that we have to accept that if we lose out on roles/positions/opportunities that we used to get even though we weren’t the best candidate, it’s a positive thing.

Within the blogging world white creators might see brand partnerships they have held for a while suddenly stop – sometimes the businesses will make that call (to create diverse partnerships) and other times our new line of questioning will lead to that. Many of us will adopt diversity/inclusivity riders in our negotiations moving forward. If we are approached to work with a brand or attend a press trip or event, we will make it clear that we are only happy to further the discussions and negotiations if the list of other people involved is diverse. But as I said in my last post, we need to have open and honest discussions in the industry to decide at what point a campaign/event is diverse enough. This might feel awkward a subject to discuss but it feels necessary to ensure clarity moving forward.

What happens if you get assurance that the project/campaign is diverse , you go to the event or the campaign goes live and it’s apparent it isn’t? Will it be a case of sharing endless receipts to prove who was acting correctly and who wasn’t? Will will be constantly proving our behaviours via photos and screenshots? Or do we need legal contracts in place so the blame can be asserted on the right party? We need to figure this out or it could get very messy, very quickly. Also, what if you have an agent/manager speaking on your behalf . You’ll need to feel confident that you can trust them to act as you would if it were you doing the liaising.

Talking of events, during lockdown we have seen some companies put on Zoom cocktails making events, new release product showcases, and follow along with us style tutorials. Will this become the norm once the rules are eased enough for us to attend events again? I predict not entirely, although it might be a method utilised to enable more people to be involved in PR/Marketing strategies. Perhaps there will be an increase in live streaming of events, or alternative Zoom events for those that can’t make the events in person. I do hope that on occasions where  brand budgets are smaller the marketing agency looking after the brands campaigns might consider allocating more to paid collaborations rather than shelling out for events that actually cost us to attend due to travel costs (but that’s just a personal hope). If at least some of events are on Zoom/available to watch back later that will be a fantastic addition for bloggers that have full time jobs, that are parents/carers, who live far away, or for health reasons find it difficult to attend. I hope all the conversations around inclusivity will also put a spotlight on the need for event organisers to consider accessibility more too. I often go to blogging events that are held upstairs, or in buildings that are terrible in terms of accessibility. There’s often very little seating too, which is makes it a difficult/impossible proposition for people with many conditions. The lists of lacking in this area require a blog post in itself.

If events and conferences were to go largely online we have to consider how this would impact industries. How much important networking happens at these events? Are the friendships you’ve made at events a big part of why you love your work? We might want to consider what we put in place to encourage people to converse, meet up and share ideas even if IRL events are less frequent.

I’ve reached 3000 words now, so it’s about time I wrap this particular post up, even though I’ve only really scratched the surface. I just wanted to end on talking about panel talks, which is often an area where people get away with paying nothing under the headers of ‘exposure’ or ‘good cause’ – I’ve have been an MC and been part of panels talks without payment (a Blogging expert recently informed me I should definitely be charging for this). I hope as well as making sure the line up of panels talks is inclusive and diverse moving forward, that equal and fair payment becomes the norm – after all the brand has invited people to spend their time to share their knowledge, expertise and personality, so they must think they’re worthy. And consideration about what you’re asking people to talk about in panel talks needs more thought too. 

We’ve started to see it happen already. In response to the events of the last week brands, magazine, newspapers have been contacting Black creatives and writers for interviews, articles, sound bites, artwork for content about race and the Black Live Matter movement… in relentless abundance. There needs to be an understanding that speaking about traumatic subjects is emotionally draining and difficult, and while they might be happy to take part, this isn’t all they want to talk and create work about. Make sure you’re commissioning  for beauty and fashion pieces, lifestyle and relationships, music, film culture…..ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.

I looked up the the basic essence of the energy of the numerology number 2020, and ‘focus’ came up numerous times. It really does feel like we are finally putting our attention on things we should have been dedicated to changing for many years previous to this momentous one. Isn’t it a shame that it took so much loss to get there? Let’s never forget this, and never let it happen again. Stay focused. Keep that pristine 2020 vision.

 

 

 

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