• Vicky Grinnell-Wright

What to do when business-as-unusual is the new business-as-usual?

A practical approach to dealing with disruptions in our BAU

Sign up to our webinar and run your own 30-day-challenge on safe-to-try remote working experiments

Reading today’s headlines, I, as many, feel both worried and powerless. However, after quickly getting bored of being in helpless mode, I began to wonder optimistically: Are we in the midst of the perfect storm in which new ways of working might finally, of necessity, take root and become mainstream? And how might we, at WOW (Ways of Working) labs, support clients, new and old, in making a virtue of the current challenges we are all facing?

Looking out of my window I see fields and homes that are flooded for the second time in the past two weeks. Perhaps, the disruption and danger that we fear at the arrival and spread of the Coronavirus is but a distraction from the pandemic that is already global and visibly starting to necessitate changes in our preferred and default ways of working and living. That pandemic is climate change and we neither have, nor will ever have, a vaccine for that.

What is interesting is that these two newsworthy phenomenons, Coronavirus and the relentless storms, are now at a crossover point. Storms are landing and in so doing, they are grounding planes, whilst the Coronavirus is marching inexorably around the globe, disrupting travel plans, invoking corporate travel bans and resulting in rapidly declining passenger numbers across multiple airlines. Jorge, and the earlier storms who blew and rained a trail of devastation before him, have disrupted business and pleasure travel, as well as agriculture, education, sport and music events. In the midst of all of this, Heathrow’s third runway has been ruled illegal over climate fears AND the UK Government, in a landmark decision, has decided NOT to appeal this decision on the grounds that this ruling is in-step with The Paris Agreement. This decision is a clear disappointment to some business leaders on the grounds of the UK’s mid-term abilities to compete on a global stage. However, whichever side of the debate one falls on in relation to the third runway decision, it is evident that the multiple and various blows to our business-as-usual norms (face to face defaults, meetings via planes etc) are showing up the strengths and the weaknesses of our global and interconnected world.

So, what has this got to do with Ways of Working? What can and might we do to rescue ourselves from despondency, fear, flood watching and stockpiling temptations? Notwithstanding the very worst case scenarios (and we are most definitely not detracting from the very real worries of the most affected), what CAN we do to help our teams adapt and offer some form of safe business continuity?

Typically, we at WOW Labs would encourage organisations to proactively, and without storms or epidemics, pay very serious attention to creating the conditions under which people and therefore by proxy, their organisations, can thrive. This seems like a good starting point for business as unusual too.

What we know is that the dominant business operating systems, designed in c1940s, are broken and no longer fit for purpose in the complex and uncertain present, never mind in a worrying and volatile future. The results of our continued deployment of old and outmoded ways of working are well documented, namely; stubbornly persistent low productivity and declining mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace and in society. It is now clear to many business leaders that in order to stem the tide of these declines and create a better trend, the old systems must be overhauled and new, more liberating systems, processes and tools must take over from the dominant hierarchical ones which were designed for a different, industrial kind of standardisation and optimisation. Only when the commonplace systems, processes, practices and tools change, will they have the chance to become congruent with and capable of delivering genuinely sustainable business, with better human and planetary outcomes. It seems there is every reason to change and few reasons to stand by forlornly admiring the problems?

So, how do we create virtue from adversity?

Usually, we would start with the outcomes an organisation seeks and work backwards from there. We might, for example, support an organisation with new decision making practices that help a team to get comfortable with reversible change, make small bets, define, propose and run ‘safe-to-try’ experiments’ and plan for a retrospective what is working well etc in order to course correct along the way.

However, it seems that suddenly, the popular definitions of both ‘safe’ (i.e the status quo and default-to-in-person, with remote and flex work as a concession in the margins), and what is logistically practical, has all shifted on its axis. Where organisations have long grappled with the psychological, cultural and practical barriers to change in areas of flexible, or remote working, they may have no option but to implement these and fast, albeit for a short period of time. For these reasons, we have decided to throw our hats in the ring and warmly invite you to sign up to be part of our 30-day ‘virtue from disaster’ ways of working supported experiment.

Each participating org (spaces are limited) will be invited to join a remote video call with myself and/or Jane Ginnever, to run through the flexible working needs they are facing into and explore the need and opportunity for planning a temporary ‘default to distributed team’ approach to a single team, or organisation, in coming weeks. Design Thinking and Appreciative Inquiry lies at the core of our work and we will offer up some tips and techniques on these approaches.

During the no-obligation free call we will:

  1. Run through the basics of the Tools and Processes kit that an experimental remote-first team might need, as a simple and easy-to-start minimum, to get going on a remote-first sprint

  2. Define the outcomes you seek from your team experiment and how you will define and evaluate success

If you then wish to join our 5 week/5 calls, remote team supported programme we will also:

  • Cover any barriers, real or imagined and un-pick anything that might be a blocker

  • Support you as you define and design your 30-day experiment and any on-boarding for the participating team

  • Provide weekly support for your experiments

If you think that now might be the time to usher in a reversible small-bet experiment in flexible, or remote working, but you need a little support in taking the leap of faith, email us Subject: Yes please to a Remote Working experiment call. We will be in touch to get you started.