A few months ago, a year ago, what seems like ages ago, the world lived in a dream of contrasts.
We had the most profound dream achieved by finally peering into the surface of the universe’s Pandora’s box, the black hole; we had a most momentous build up of awareness for the Earth’s climate challenges. We had a refreshing conclusion to one deadlock in series of stalemates gripping a crucial economic and political block of the European Union. Wealth and fortunes made never seen before in history.
Along with these and others, we were both charmed and dismayed by royal abdications in Japan and in the UK, whatever one’s opinion of the events were. Prolonged and protracted uprisings by predominantly youth citizens crippled Hong Kong nearly to a stand still. Terrorism, big and small, risked warping hard fought wins in the world order. Natural disasters predictably shook nations. Man-made ones carried on with unprecedented ferocity, like the reckless forest fires in Asia and the Amazon forest. We endured a continuation of relentless bickering between the U.S. and China, dragging the world economy into uncertainty and malaise; an opening into a vulnerability that will prove to be an accelerant should the world order court a more vicious pattern.
Just as 2019 closed, a spark. The world barely noticed then, but the spark came in the form of the tiniest life form known, a virus. It will soon remind humanity of its hubris and its helplessness should Nature bring forth a sampler of a million possible nightmares at Her behest.
At the time of this writing, we are all inundated by information and news of the Covid-19. Humanity is going through the largest collective consciousness of Nature’s fury and people’s spectrum of hubris-genius-conviction-wisdom-idiocy-apathy, hunkering down in one way or another, where ever one finds himself or herself or LGBT-self or “neuter”-self.
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A lot has been said and written already, the above is merely a minor digression and reminder. This is not what this nearly aimless essay is about. Little is written about a growing sort of life advice that guarantees happiness beneath which broils a denial that covers an essential truth: the world has changed in the most profound way and there may be no going back.
But has there ever been a soul in this hope of going back to the way it was in life, pandemic or not?
In parallel to the news coverage of economic crisis and opportunities with the far more important human health crisis and cost, majority of the world have been forced into both a quarantine and a change of way of life and work. More are working from home. Essential roles carry on in hybrid manner. The world is contending with balancing the demands of the pandemic with the demands of economy and, funnily, entertainment. And everywhere, wisdom abound in the best way to deal with Working From Home, Living Through The Pandemic Till We Get Back To Normalcy, Complaints With This New Temporary Reality, Belief That Positivity Makes This Better, “Life Influencers” Growing More And More In Numbers Everywhere, Positivity Is Key, And Negativity, Cynicism, And Pessimism Be Shunned.
This essay is not meant to influence anyone or anything. Heck, most likely, you will not read this or get to read this in the flurry of blurry scrolling streaming updates in social media or digital channels. It is but a catharsis and outcry: enough!
There is and should be no return to the way it was or going back to normal. It was not. Was unbridled density, reckless me-ness, proliferations of nothing but shallow social closeness amidst widespread depression, fake truths, and careless humanity normal?
We deserve a new normal and a better normal for our future. We have glimpsed it a bit. A few have seemed to adapt quicker to the immense changes because they somehow lived differently already before all this.
Stop calling it remote work: it is simply distributed work in a global, regional, urban, and digital life powered by technology and progressive leadership in organisation that does not depend on face time alone to believe productivity is achieved. Even in a fundamentally physical work like collecting garbage in a country or across countries if one is a multinational, the senior leadership or operational management of these do not require managers breathing down the necks of people collecting waste in the streets, pandemic or not. Businesses work with and collaborate with colleagues across the globe. Consumers deal with people in far flung call centres and recently with bots living inside servers on the cloud. Stop calling it remote work. It is all simply work with location transparency or opacity.
Convince anyone working in a dense office space in a huge company to admit that even when a requests can be made with a chat and done in a jiffy, a tiny piece of necessary work may spiral into long drawn out “short” email backs-and-forths over months, endless conference calls and in-person meetings, and mind-numbing bureaucracy powered by the most advanced service management technology designed to burden you with oblivion.
Stop depending on videoconferencing and meetings, then, now, and onwards: it is all communications and use the right method for the job with attributes and philosophy befitting the purpose. Without going too deep, check out what we found as the best distillation of advice and counter-common-wisdom on the matter: https://basecamp.com/guides/how-we-communicate (we are not affiliated in any way or form other than a respect for their ethos and thinking).
Stop with sweeping generalisations of human and worker profiles: not everyone wants that fun Friday after office drink; not everyone finds another form of fun as fun; not everyone wants endless noise and electricity-in-the-air feeling in an office (ozone?); not everyone wants a nerd beside them, most nerds don’t want it either; extroverts can be good and bad for human dynamics while introverts can also be good and bad for human dynamics; not everyone has or can afford or wants paid household help. All the complaints of kids at home and spouses at home and family at home as sapping all potential for productive focus while working at home hide a question: before the pandemic and home quarantine, how, and more importantly who, exactly handled these?
Stop with the obsession with open office space, the more grid-like, the worse: nothing has destroyed the essence of collaboration than cramming every bit of space with “personnel” and “human resource”. Much scientific studies back the ills of this concept done from its mid-way to its extreme. In a lot of cases, there is also an undercurrent of control and comfort by organisational management that drives this; worse, the desire to save costs is wrapped with goals of people’s welfare. As the saying goes, an evil empire doing good things for show . . . is still . . . an evil empire.
And heck, it is bad enough that people are killing each other literally with unmanaged stress over cubicle empires; now, the fight is reduced to the fine grained elbow room, monitors if any to hide from the one in front of you, and who has the better noise cancellation head phones.
And please, the agile stand ups meant for collaboration turned reporting tool to appease management . . . enough. The process is neutral, people and its management intentions are key. Two different people can say the same sentiments and objectives but the intentions and motivations may differ significantly. Control and collaboration is a weighted balance that has no secret recipe. When in doubt or hubris of purpose and effectiveness, the pandemic . . . remember, all those grand plans and schemes . . .
Stop pursuing work-life balance, there is and will never be work-life balance: it is all work and it is all life, intertwined. It has been a drain in our collective sanity that we have been bewitched by this pursuit of separation and balance. How one is empowered, self-determined, and self-disciplined matters both at work, at home, and at large. Distractions and focus and stress in its purest sense will be unavoidable. Avoidance, deflection, denial and magical mindfulness will not liberate us. Stress is not a problem to be solved but simply a state and consequence of exertion, physical, mental, emotional, and otherwise. The manner and mastery of exertion and the recognition of the needs, causes, and effects is what matters more:
(again we are not affiliated in any way or form with YouTube other than a respect for the speaker’s wisdom). In a lot of real ways, stress is a friend.
Stop running and owning things: Ever hear yourself or bosses say, “I run this and that X department or group of people or company” or “I own this project or system or application or department or section or whatever”? People are people, even robots are biased by its makers; companies, it units, its systems, its projects do not need owners, it needs custodians, advisers, and arbiters. Ownership in most cases have driven the silos and intractable bureaucracy perpetuated for retirement purposes of those who get lucky, who are cunning, and some times, who are competent. Nobody really owns a company unless you are literally 100% a one person crew. Even then, you are only as successful as your products fits with the needs of people and the way you serve them with gratitude and excellence; not because you “run it” or “own it.”
This discourse has veered towards the negativity that people abhor, just bit but not totally. It is in its small way, anathema to the shallow positivity purveyed by happy people who are actually struggling in real. It has become an extension of the vanity and envy that drives most of social media. What exactly did someone who sees a peer or colleague riding that luxury car, all smiles and contentment, while one barely makes end meet? Deservedly or not, will not feel great, regardless if they felt “happy for others.”
We do not need positivity for positivity’s sake. At least, I don’t.
Going back to the pandemic, I remind myself as a person and as a leader that serves its people, these are not normal circumstances. Whatever works in little pockets of our collective realities will not universally apply to everyone. It was always that way: then, now, and onwards; best of times and worst of times. Respecting this with integrity, empathy, flexibility, and cleverness has been a far superior guiding light in the doom and gloom we face than the empty positivity dystopia that only makes some of us feel worse.
So we carry on: full senses engaged; recognition of realities, responding, neither in exuberance or denial but simply a “we’ll see” zen moment; mindful not just of self but mindful of others; moving or not, whatever the situation calls for; becoming hope in action, whether we feel negative or positive; and as in the counter-spirit of the light at the end of the tunnel or the darkest before dawn, we shine a light to the world, not because we thought all was bright but because we accepted the darkness and chose to light it up.