Let’s strive for exceptional

A few years back a human resources trainer held some workshops here with my managers on new techniques and strategies to make work a happier more productive place. Of course, all workplaces have their quirks, different personalities and goals.

The one question we were asked to consider was poignant enough I copied it down and put it on my bulletin board as an inspiration to review now again. It reads “What would exceptional look like?”

That question related to hiring and coaching people with various skills and attitudes that add to the workplace. It remains a task that never ends. Imagining the future and how to handle challenges that crop up now and again I find myself asking that question more often in a broader sense. What would exceptional look like?

It seems that inquisitive peek at the future isn’t something confined to our organization. During this pandemic and the ensuing media coverage, hundreds of experts have talked about the future and what the workplace will look like.

The vast majority of commentators we have watched on TV have full buy-in for this notion of working from home. Working online has allowed for business continuity and many have talked about worker efficiency at home. Those who work hard in the office apply the same attitude to hours spent online.

Marginal employees and those with little ones under feet can hardly say the workday benefits the employer. It becomes a balancing act between meeting the employer’s needs and successfully handling family obligations. Interruptions causing inefficiency and outright time theft are issues not readily talked about but will surely factor into this model’s effectiveness going forward.

Some have suggested this work-from-home model will make it possible for large entities to walk away from bricks and mortar storefronts and office towers. These centres are often heavily populated. Between elevators, cafeterias, board rooms and open space office areas, the prospect of meeting physical distancing standards is nearly impossible.

There is also the transit question, where a portion of the trip – if not all – relies on public transit, where again, social distancing causes those forms of transportation to become inefficient and arguably a health risk.

As has been pointed out innumerable times within this column over the years, there are always unintended consequences that follow major shifts in policy. One problem is solved while others fester.

Depleting downtowns of their commercial tenants will hollow out cores that are already fighting for survival. The sandwich shop, the after-hours pub and so many other retail enterprises that rely on a stream of potential customers each day will cease to exist without regular customers.

Add to that issue the prospect of vacant structures not easily being re-purposed. For a short while the municipality may get its taxes as the building morphs into something else, but the unidentified issue of who will make up for these usually exorbitant taxes after a business vacates never gets discussed. It will fall on the residential tax base, causing even higher taxes at home.

Another serious challenge is the need for social interaction. Being unable to celebrate and commiserate with friends and co-workers makes for a dreary existence. Not getting out of the house and eyes trained on computer screens for hours at a time hardly feels like an upgrade from office life. Online meetings may break up the day, but as one at-home worker explained – “my bosses see an open time slot and book me in a meeting.” Pumping out emails and attending virtual meetings may keep people busy but is business really being done?

Exceptional should be our goal going forward, not just change because the technology exists.