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Time, Trust and Truthiness

M Moser’s Steve Gale picks out three lights to guide us through the fog…

26/01/2021 2 min read

It has been a year-long bonfire of expectations and ambitions, and now we have to plan for 2021, even though we might like to avoid it. Are there takeaways from the last year to help us navigate through the fog of ignorance?

The pandemic here in the UK turned up poignant reminders about human nature too revealing to ignore, and they can help us weigh up the options in front of us. Some old truths have been nicely coloured in for us. Here are three examples.

Time delay. We are particularly bad at anticipating outcomes triggered by earlier events. We all know very well that an infection takes time to become a disease, but we still engage in risky behaviour because nothing happens at the time. Following the simple logic takes real effort and discipline, especially when it concerns a novel and invisible virus. This common weakness is partly why people crowded onto trains out of London to avoid being locked into the new Tier 4 over Christmas. It was a reaction to delayed gratification or, in this case, punishment.

There are obvious implications for managing change, especially when it is not universally requested or understood. People will adapt if they see the change as a long-term, good thing, rather than a short-term inconvenience.

Another reason for the train episode might be to do with trust. Compared to the first lockdown in the spring, recent sanctions have not been so successful. We have had time to reflect and invent competing scenarios, and now we are seeing confidence in authority erode as decisions are delayed or publicly challenged. If leadership appears to stumble, even when the path ahead is dangerous and uncharted, we naturally look for alternatives, and begin to doubt the direction of travel.

If leadership appears to stumble, even when the path ahead is dangerous and uncharted, we naturally look for alternatives.

We have been treated to a yearlong TED talk on the fragility of trust in leadership. When we fear for the future, confidence in our leaders is more than just helpful, it is essential, especially when they ask people to change how they live and work. We will need commitment and consistency from business leaders as we redesign the working environment after the pandemic.

A third lesson has been the reflections on productivity as revealed in the surveys about working from home. Most employees are convinced that they are as productive, or even more productive, at home as when they were in the office. This could be true, but there is no way to easily verify it, and it highlights the conundrum of measuring white-collar productivity.

It is a great example of the difference between data and evidence. The data says the majority of people think they are productive, but unfortunately there is no evidence to show this is true. Living with the pandemic is an ongoing experiment, and the findings will add to our existing knowledge, but the results have not had much time to be tested.

These lessons – and others – garnered from recent experience will help us design the workplaces of the future.

Steve Gale is Head of Workplace Strategy at M Moser Associates: SteveG@mmoser.com

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