Fiona Logan, Chief Executive of Insights, explores how leaders can help their businesses maintain the valuable intimacy generated over the past couple of years as businesses look ahead to 2022.
Go back two years and intimacy wasn’t something associated with the world of work. Instead, it might have been used to describe a close relationship with a family member or friend. But then there was a global pandemic, and while most people were forced to physically distance themselves from one another – ironically – many of us became closer.
You may remember in 2017 when an American academic was interrupted by his children during a live television interview – the clip soon went viral. It was so unusual at the time that it was almost comical. Nowadays most business meetings are taken virtually from our home office – and they’re frequently interrupted by our children, our pets, or a knock at the front door. It is completely normal! That is unlikely to change anytime soon, and nor should it.
In the months ahead, as new challenges related to Covid-19 present and colleagues continue to work remotely, or adopt hybrid patterns of working, leaders will need to get increasingly comfortable with this intimacy and the unexpected benefits it can bring.
The benefit of increased intimacy
As human beings we generally have an ideal version of ourselves we are happy to share with the world –– think the official, posed photo on LinkedIn – and then a more authentic ‘whole self.’ This is usually the version we only share with those closest to us.
Pre-Covid, most of us would have known our colleague’s ideal version of themselves, but after two years of home-working, we have become much more intimate and increasingly familiar with each other’s authentic self. It starts at the core level – coming into each other’s homes forces us to be more authentic, which makes us more accessible, transparent, and more relatable. That also allows us to empathise and opens the door to new ways of thinking and working. Increased intimacy has benefits in terms of trust and a positive working climate, which are fundamental to engagement and productivity in an organisation.
How to maintain intimacy
When businesses transition back to the workplace, it will be important to protect the advances we’ve made over the past two years. Some people will be chomping at the bit to return to the office, while others may feel anxious as they’ve settled into a home-working rhythm, so maintaining that trust and positive climate will be essential. We can’t just jump back to how things were in 2019 and we must transition in a way that accounts for different individual preferences.
It is also important to consider the zeitgeist of Gen C – a powerful new group of digital natives who care deeply about creation, connection, and community. Gen C demands the informal – but highly productive – lifestyle that Covid-19 has been a super-accelerator for, and the work/life balance that accompanies it.
With all this in mind, three key areas can help leaders to ensure intimacy continues during the next transition.
1. Focus on wellbeing
When people are empowered to take ownership of their own wellbeing, the result is that they are committed and highly productive. As leaders, we should create space for people to care for themselves and they will repay you by caring for the organisation that supported them, and its people.
2. Focus on diversity of experience
Everyone will have their own unique experience of the pandemic, and we should respect that. As leaders, we need to ensure an environment that encourages individuals to share their personal experiences, increases awareness and understanding, creates empathy, and builds a spirit of togetherness. It also means that, as you transition back to the office, the window in people’s lives won’t slam shut – it can, and likely will, remain open.
3. Focus on purpose
For me, purpose is the most important aspect of all. Community – and intimacy – come from a shared endeavour. Insights have always been purpose-led, but Covid-19 renewed this sense of purpose. As we come out of the pandemic, leaders must do what they can to maintain a focus on purpose and to retain intimacy as organisations return to the office.
Everything we’ve experienced over the past two years has pushed and changed us. We must embrace these changes – understanding that the personal can and will intersect with the professional – and get increasingly comfortable with the changing dynamics of working relationships and the benefits this can bring both individuals, teams and organisations.