This was the big issue during the pandemic and after: how to maintain the social link in the business when physical contact becomes rare or non-existent?
This is a legitimate concern as the confinement that has taken place in many countries has been abrupt and even traumatic, especially for businesses that had little or no practice of remote work until then.
It is also an easy excuse to go back to the office and to nip in the bud any desire for sustainable remote work: without presence in the office, there is no connection and therefore no corporate culture.
Today, the subject is still sensitive for businesses that have understood that the previous model is no longer valid but are afraid to project themselves into a future where they no longer have any reference points.
And a topic that we will as usual observe through the trends that shape the future of work in 2022.
This has been the major concern during the various periods of confinement: how to maintain the link and the feeling of belonging at a distance? And beyond this specific question, the possibility of more generalized remote work has given rise to a more global concern as to how to maintain social ties and business culture in a remote organization.
Because the pandemic was only a pretext to bring out the real subject which concerns the social link and the business culture in a context of generalized remote work.
One thing is certain: in remote work contacts are less informal and more transactional. Relationships with those you work with are strengthened, while they are weakened with others. The focus shifts from the business or team to the project team.
I won’t say, as some do, that the links are disappearing, but compared to before, they are reconfigured in a way that can be described as utilitarian, with a real risk of reinforcing the silos.
But we should not believe that strong ties are essential to the proper functioning of the business. This is another lesson of the pandemic.
We already know that an employee does not need to be very socially engaged to deliver quality teamwork.
But the pandemic has shown us that strong ties can affect resilience. For some employees, not seeing their colleagues was a real pain and their greatest expectation when the offices reopened was to see their colleagues again.
Personally, I find it worrying that the business and colleagues are so important that some employees forget to develop a life on the side and find themselves isolated when the business no longer plays its role as a social connector. Let’s move on.
But one thing is certain: employees for whom social ties weigh or count for less were more at ease at a distance and, in general, when it came to adapting, finding ways of working and building adhoc teams during the pandemic, unlike those who were paralyzed and shocked by the forced and long-lasting move to a distance. They were less affected by the sequence of organizational and human configuration changes.
When the link becomes more important than its purpose, it is no longer a strength and becomes a handicap for businesses that it prevents from adapting and for employees who find it difficult to exist outside their usual community.
No impact here.
Let’s put it this way: without technology there is no remote work, no distributed or remote business, and most importantly, I can’t imagine how businesses would have survived COVID.
It will never replace in-person contact and it is not to be believed that Metavers will change anything, if it is not just a smoke cloud.
On the other hand, it allows many things. To collaborate in a transactional way first. But not only. It allows you to create and maintain groups or communities, transversal or informal, it allows individual or group discussion flows, it proposes the channel (text, voice, video) best adapted to each context.
It won’t do anything magical, but it will do a lot all the same. But on one condition: that we use each tool for what it was designed for and that we use it with its codes, according to its DNA.
And this is the main problem: tools from the consumer world have invaded the business over the last 15 years, but if we imported the technology, its codes remained at the door. But using tools that have in their DNA the ability to flatten and decompartmentalize organizations and in their conditions of success, communication postures that are more egalitarian than hierarchical, with the codes of a formal, hierarchical and siloed business, does not work. From a managerial point of view, this is a digital leadership issue.
You can’t expect an application to work in an environment where its assumptions are not valid. That’s the whole problem here.
We will not create or maintain connection through the technology available if we use it with a cultural bias that goes against its DNA.
The evolution of society and economy
Whether we like it or not and whether we try to slow it down or not will not change anything: for many reasons, tomorrow’s work will be more and more remote, in distributed organizations.
The social link will have to exist in such a context, even if it takes a new form that may worry the supporters of a more traditionalist approach of the subject.
The transformation of service activities and knowledge work
No impact here.
The future of work will be more remote and distributed, a trend that seems difficult to counter. In this context, many businesses are wondering what the future of the social link, which they often associate with the diffusion and preservation of their culture, will be made of.
Another factor is that this will take place in an uncertain context where crises will be more and more frequent, with the corollary of the need to constantly change and adapt. Indeed, and this is perhaps one of the only things we can take for granted: the only thing that does not change is change.
Businesses would be wrong to want to maintain their current conception of social ties: strong, reassuring, but which can be paralyzing at the slightest shock: if it strengthens the human structure of the business, it also makes it very fragile as soon as it is hit. A bit like the bodywork of a car: making it too rigid does not protect the occupants, on the contrary it must be able to deform and absorb shocks.
In this context, we will have to learn to live with a more flexible, distended but flexible link. This is the price that will be paid for resilience and will help the group to absorb shocks and adapt permanently. Too rigid, on the other hand, will encourage the maintenance of the status quo at all costs and will leave employees helpless if external events of great power affect them.