8 Workplace Myths Erased by 2020

We kicked off 2020 ready to get to work while bringing 2019 along with us. Yet, 2020 had other plans.

For years, we’ve been talking about the importance of being more agile and thriving in ambiguity! Well, here we are.

Agility is no longer an option or a corporate buzz word, but essential to survive today. Some industries, such as airlines, have faced a dramatic drop in demand and others have had to reinvent themselves. In entertainment, the Disney Plus broadcast of Hamilton was a wildly successful Plan B after the original October 2020 theater release was no longer viable. Improvisation is required everywhere by everyone.

In spite of the loss and disappointment of 2020 – there is an opportunity to toss out old assumptions.  Here are a few myths 2020 shut down:

  1. We will get back to normal in a few months. (March myth)

Remember how cute we were in late March when we said, ‘if we can buckle down for a few weeks then we will get back to normal’? Well, that went well. The virus is here to stay for a while. We are giving up a lot today, but let’s not miss the chance to decide what we want to give up based on this unprecedented experience.

  1. I need to hire people in my location.

We’ve proven that work can be done virtually and done well. The naysayers can now reconsider that work can be done from Louisville, Seattle or a house two miles away. This realization multiplies your talent pool exponentially. The ‘hard to find’ candidate with digital skills in Austin can now be identified anywhere. The resistance to more virtual options has probably softened in your organization.

  1. We can only have good leadership meetings, workshops or events in person.

That myth has been settled because you’re doing it now. We’ve seen firsthand that a virtual video conference can close that gap. While virtual doesn’t completely replace in person, if done well it comes closer to reducing the in person requirement while increasing efficiency.

  1. We must travel to stay close to our people, customers and clients.

Most organizations have learned to work without much or any travel which has led to extraordinary cost savings. Many leaders are reconsidering reduced travel in 2021 and beyond as the definition of ‘normal travel’ has been redefined. I expect that when business travel truly returns it will be more targeted based on need rather than always assumed. Also, travel takes time. The days of traveling overnight for a 3 hour meeting may be behind us. 

  1. People aren’t as productive when they work from home.

The business case has just been made for more virtual working. We’ve done it! More virtual working opens up creative ways to staff, flexible workweeks and, as noted above, the option to hire the best people even when not 20 miles from the office.  Parents have also seen the value of skipping an hour-long commute to have family dinner and more time at home. These benefits will be appreciated and even expected more by the workforce than ever before because we’ve seen it work. Flexible working will become even more of a company differentiator than ever before.

  1. We can’t collaborate unless we are sitting together.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack and collaboration/communication tools that have been in the ‘use as needed’ category are now essential to our workday. Technology has enabled us to see each other and work together easier. Video communication done well can come close to replacing in person. And, it’s hard for the multi-taskers to work their magic when everyone sees your face – all of the time.

  1. Everyone needs a space in our office.

If you’ve committed to space for everyone – cubicles, offices, gathering spots – that too will likely shift. Physical office space has evolved the past 15-20 years to more shared and open space. This experience has accelerated how we think about co-working space and that an in person presence is no longer required every day. There are new solely virtual or combo in-person and virtual options that will reshape the office of the future.

  1. The diversity agenda is a great training program.

Lastly, the biggest change has been in how we view diversity, inclusion and belonging. There has been a dramatic change in attitudes of justice, fairness and the expectation of a truly diverse workforce – more than any other time in the last twenty years. Many organizations are now holding panels to share the real stories of the black experience. Now what? The best corporate training program won’t be enough to create real change. This year is the opportunity to think bigger and address the fundamentals and systems in your organization –  how leaders are selected and developed, how to intentionally seek out candidates that reflect our communities, how to not only understand the black experience, but change it. Inclusion will never look the same after 2020.

Today there is an amazing opportunity to change, to advance and dramatically accelerate new ways of thinking and working. Let’s not allow the myths of the past to slow us down.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults