A year ago, as lockdowns began, we were cut off suddenly from our normal modes of informal communication. Body language, people seen from a distance, offhand comments and all those other small signals that make up the majority of the way we understand others.

As we grappled for handholds, we found ourselves overwhelmed with great technology to fill the communications void. Zoom. Slack, Teams and others filled the formal gap. We came to terms with being on extended calls where we were always visible as we multi channeled from our kitchens, bedrooms and for those of us lucky enough, home offices. It felt at times like being in some sort of constant meeting assessment centre, being visible, recorded and judged like some weird(er) version of the Truman Show.

When I looked for some data on productivity during this time, I was spoilt for choice. Depending on source, it had either rocketed or collapsed depending on the positioning of the authors and sponsors. I think it’s fair to say it’s done both. For many, keeping ineffective managers at arms length has been a boon, whilst for others used to close physical collaboration it has been more challenging. I suspect problem solvers who can work independently have thrived at the same time as those whose skills are social have struggled.

A year on, the adrenalin is wearing off and we are in a place where we realise that some of what we used to do will be possible, but whole chunks of it will not. How do we adjust?

Being always “on stage” via technology is not the answer – digital burn out is still burnout. Social glue is vital – all the non verbal sensing that keeps us together and aligned is vital, but too much of it is toxic. Central control didn’t work before the pandemic, and it works even less now as we understand it better.

I think there are three major lessons from this last year:

  1. We each have a suite of abilities, preferences and operating styles that makes us unique, and which offers us a possibility to make important contributions. How much of that we rent out to employers is a conscious choice. We are our organisations greatest asset in the same way as turkeys are a farmer’s. There will always be Christmas, No matter what the PR, we are turkeys.
  2. For a while, decades at least, hierarchy is dead and the power of the “Agora” – the space where commerce and conversation mix freely is alive. We will be defined by the conversations we have and the company we keep.
  3. We are responsible for our own lives and our own development. The industrial era is over, and with it the comfort of doing a job defined by job spec and person profile. The world around us is changing at every moment. It is our responsibility to take note and orient ourselves to what is happening and align ourselves with it to achieve our aims, and fufil our dreams. We cannot delegate it to organisations – they cannot keep up.

We are entering an important era.

Getting our lives in balance so we can thrive will take effort and time.

We have to start now, where we are.

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