“Hi, I’m Bhakti, and I apologize in advance for my toddler in the background.” This is my new introduction on the plethora of video conference calls that are keeping me connected while working from home.
Without much warning or preparation, businesses the world over have required a dramatic shift in how work is done in the last two weeks due to COVID-19. Ironically, people have been asking for more flexibility in the workplace for years, but I don’t think spouses fighting for the same desk, children interrupting, and dogs barking is what anyone had in mind. Better work/life balance isn’t exactly compatible with shelter-in-place directives; it’s more like a work/life collision.
But I’m wondering what happens after the pandemic recedes into memory? I’m not convinced people will revert to the traditional “factory” model of heading into an office for daily “shifts”, five days every week. Technology was already reshaping the workday. For instance, many people start checking email on their mobile devices well before they get into the office.
I believe work in the future will encompass the “flipped workplace.” I’m taking a cue from the “flipped classroom,” a type of blended learning where students watch lectures at home, instead of a classroom, and do their homework at school with the benefit of support from a facilitator and collaboration with peers.
At BigSpring we’ve extended this concept beyond the classroom and use the “flipped workplace” when we support clients in transitioning their organizations from an offline engagement model to a digital one. To begin with, rather than taking training courses in a classroom, people consume digital content on their own schedule, providing the benefits of distribution at scale, in real-time, and at a consistent quality bar. It doesn’t stop there though - at BigSpring, we believe content on its own isn’t learning. Learning is doing - it happens when skills are continuously applied and people become proficient and measurably productive. In this framework, learning and working are one and the same. Working is simply learning in action. Social interaction remains critical, be it digital or in-person, but it moves from using “synchronous” people engagement from watching a lecture together to actually applying the concepts together - collaborating, building trusting relationships, and receiving meaningful feedback.
Drawing from our clients, the learning/working journey could start with information on new product launches, evolving company policies or a weekly message from the CEO. On-the-job time is focused on problem-solving how to respond to product defects, sharing best practices from the field, etc. - all areas that actually benefit from peer interaction and now with more efficient time and resource allocation.
We also deploy a “flipped workplace” model at BigSpring - we “eat our own dogfood”, if you will. With our team dispersed across four time zones and moving with all the agility you’d expect from a high-growth start-up, we are zealous about examining what needs to be achieved synchronously versus what does not. We believe the calendar load of bringing five people together in a fixed time slot is costly so we always try to identify the work that can be tackled asynchronously, such as updates on client meetings and product upgrades. It also means that, when we do come together synchronously, we make it count - we’re prepared and productive.
I don’t believe the world will ever move completely from an all-in-person to all-digital format, which is the hard left it’s taken the last few weeks. The new normal will be somewhere in the middle, and the balance will be different for every company. I believe, going forward, if you look closely, you will see the principles of the “flipped workplace” become prevalent across companies around the world, large and small.