10 reasons old office chat is no longer the norm

“How are you? I’m Fine!” A question and response heard all the time in a classic office environment. All very polite, but almost a reflex action than a real concern. This old office chat is no longer the norm and the question; how are you? Now means something far more in our virtual work world.

This is a personal post, reflecting on my experiences and feelings over the last 10 weeks and the appreciation I have in working with a great team and why I feel that it has changed the working practices, attitudes, camaraderie and communication skills of all of us involved.

So we are clear – this has not been an easy 10 weeks or so. Our working and personal worlds have been turned upside down, our appreciation of the NHS and key workers has never been so high and getting a delivery slot from a supermarket now feels like a lottery win! As a business, Just IT has worked hard to continue to support our clients and our employees in incredibly challenging circumstances. We have also learned a lot about ourselves as professionals and as people. We are more agile, clearer in our goals and have built-in time to communicate with one another and support one another honestly.

While we miss the physical engagement and office vibe, it has highlighted how we had become lazier in our interaction with our colleagues. How many times pre Covid in an office or a hallway did you ask how someone was and for them to throw an equally disinterested response? Our virtual platforms do not allow us to engage physically, but it has made the discussions as a group more intimate – we are taking the time to understand one another as people. We had to do this. We had great people having to go on Furlough and those that remained needed to have another team to help them.

So what are the 10 things we have learnt that are bringing us together as one team more than ever before? 

1. Laughter – more inclusive than ever before and it’s not about the loudest people. We are taking the time to hear all of our staff – and they are bloody funny! Interestingly, because everyone is listening, the stories build, and people can come back to them over the weeks – inclusive hilarity is really really funny. Who knew!

2. Openness – guards have dropped and expressing “weakness” is offered for help and support. The intimacy of virtual meetings has made us closer, regardless of the level of seniority. We have all joined this now. It took some longer, but the group listened and one by one, we all joined the circle of trust. We talk openly about emotions, feelings and mental health and how we can help one another.

3. Praise – not just praise, but PRAISE. Everyone is contributing and has to chair a morning meeting with their agenda and give us all thought-provoking concepts to respond on. It is giving us immediacy to say thank you, to use the chatbox, to email and ultimately for everyone to share in the feedback rather than 1 or 2. I never want to lose this – its awesome!

4. Our families, the co-stars – Spouses and partners have become part of the group. We know them by name, we interact with them, we make jokes about their loved ones to them, and they offer us input. We now know that some of us are cranky, some are working too hard, and some don’t help with putting washing away (you know who you are!). However, now’s not the time to mention those family members not realising that nakedness and video chats don’t go. Damn you good weather!

5. MS Teams – for those of you on MS teams you know what we are talking about. It took a while to get to grips, coming from an office environment to a virtual one in three days. Then we spent the next few days trying to work out all the functionality of just trying to get the call to work. Now – well, we love the updates, the raised hand, the bespoke backgrounds, the chatbox facility and the Gifs. It is a multi-layered comms tool that allows immediate interaction, comment and input covering all of our team’s communication styles. Also, if I’m honest, it allows us to photograph those people that are glitching and capture bizarre facial expressions.

6. Animals – We all know that our pets love having us working from home. My team have loads of pets and some have taken to joining our video meetings, including a cat that uses people’s shoulders or their laptop as his beds. He’s called Snuggles – enough said!

7. Listening – wow, what a difference. We were pretty good, but we are in a different league now. Great behaviour allowing people to have their say, staying quiet and allowing concepts and discussions to build and not just offering their own opinions before someone has finished. We are on the path of developing the skill in listening to understand and not to respond. If you listen, you learn new wisdom whereas when you talk you are just saying what you already know. If it’s good enough for the Dalai Lama then it’s good enough for us.

8. Getting shit done – I cannot believe how quick we are at getting tasks done in a timely way. We are more efficient, more active and less distracted. We are holding one another to account, and we are clear on what we are all trying to achieve. We are all diving in to help one another, and we are being accountable and responsible for getting stuff done. Not being in the same office means we are sharing the documents in a live context and being action orientated rather than having everyone chatting. We are saving hours a week!

9. Haircuts – We are in three camps here and lots of learns: 

  • Camp A – not had one in 10 weeks – think Chewbacca. 
  • Camp B – did it yourself – clippers are only for professionals and how to do it yourself YouTube videos …seriously!
  • Camp C – a test of your love. Your partner did it for you. I’ve had three – I love my wife very much!

10. Health – Physical and mental. We have a fitness club and daily exercises. Now lots of people did the gym anyway, but lots of us could not because we were commuting and working long hours. Because we are more efficient, and people have 2-3 hours a day not travelling the vast majority of the team have mental health tasks or physical goals they are working to. We are all now well on the way to being buffed and beach-ready – unfortunately, we cannot go to a beach, but hey, that’s not the point!

I cannot thank the team enough in work and in Furlough – they have been genuinely awe-inspiring and have made me an incredibly lucky leader. I know other businesses are doing great things as well so feel free to share your ideas with others – for us, some examples of what made the 10 possible were (we have loads more, this is just the last couple of weeks):

  • Agreeing on personal goals for the month all together as a group
  • Discussing the qualities that make a quality team and talking through ours
  • Favourite food and drink for our night out when we can all safely gather again
  • Keep hustling – it’s hard out there, so keep agile and keep focussing on small wins
  • What we have been most grateful for in Lockdown
  • Favourite comedy film and show and why.
  • 3 emotions we have felt in Lockdown
  • What is our spirit animal
  • Music that creates emotions for us