How long does it take for a habit to set in? Sixty-six days. The myth you believe to be true is 21 days, that’s the minimum. If your team left the office when we did, after the second week of March, and if we return the first full week of June, that’ll be 77 days. We are ten days past a cemented habit. This new structure for work becomes a “normal” habit by the time we’re supposed to head back to an office.
We are watching as our health care heroes face overwhelming odds in NYC, Spain, Italy and other parts of the world. We tip and thank our cashiers, delivery people and service technicians in abundance because they are stationed on the front line of this war. Management isn’t just “getting a taste” of work on the front line in the factory or facing customers; in some cases they are required to be on the front line. The top down management style caters to the tip of the pyramid, now our employee experience has become so central to every business that leaders are having to flip the pyramid upside down and take on a supporting role.
This is going to be noticed. This new normal is habit forming for employees and should be for leadership as well. This shift will be hard to take away after things return to whatever “normal” is. The habits for this new future are getting chiseled into the marble lobby for all to see.
In a conversation six weeks ago, which feels like two years, Kurt Schroeder and Kate Kompelien of Avtex, a customer experience company, brought up the part of our near future we need to start planning: The return to work for those who have been furloughed. And, the staggered return to an office for those who have been in a work from home situation. This experience can be designed for employees to convey the feelings of safety, comfort, community and appreciation. But, as our collective timeline shifts, your plans need to adjust to the new information.
We had a more recent conversation with Nicolas Rader, former head of design at WeWork, on how work spaces and behaviors might change. His quote, “The CFOs in situations where the need to create 6 feet of safe space surrounding everyone are not going to double their office space.” Nic relayed a model that has already been showing up: hub, spoke and home—the trifecta of working environments. Employers will be rewarded for creating options from home to the route into work and the home office (hub).
Back to the big question, are we back to normal? Are we holding a large party with “Corona Can Kiss my Asterisk” spelled out in skywriting? Or are you returning to a somber, quiet, calm environment over the summer?
For context, the virus and lockdown hit us at Capsule when some team members were scattered throughout the country and flying seemed too dangerous. Paired with this, the good fortune of being able to do our work from anywhere and we became a virtual “national” office within hours. Capsule’s operating committee put a plan in place near the end of April, based on federal guidelines and our culture. We have not required anyone to come back to the office, but have set a June 1 date to slowly migrate in the direction of our worldwide headquarters in Minneapolis. This is important because of the type of work we do.
Having been through 9/11 and the financial crisis of ‘08, we know doing creative work in a state of fear, worry and loathing will have an impact. So, our No. 1 emotion is safety and our second is community. And, yes, we see the conflict baked into these two. We also believe the creative process is a community activity and while video is a mediocre replacement, it never replaces being in the same room exchanging ideas and concepts. When people feel safe enough to return they will be rewarded with the feeling of community in its most authentic form.
Here are a few discussions, questions and events my colleagues at Capsule look forward to when we return.
A group planning discussion about the future. What are we doing differently now? What are we excited about in the future? What types of activities, work, clients do we want to focus on for the next year, five, 10?
What are the most important moments for your team returning? What roles do we want to hire next? What are we looking forward to leaving behind, habits, practices, and constructs.
One big extra happy, happy, happy hour. The kind of get together where it starts when the clock strikes noon and doesn’t stop until we’re all taking rideshares home.
Whatever your case, this is a working revolution, sparked by a new awareness of the importance of what a results-focused work effort looks like. Will you keep the pyramid flipped pointy side down? Will you remember to reward your cashier, technician and delivery person with a noble thank you and occasional tip?
This part of our new future can be habit forming, if you let it.
Aaron Keller (email@example.com) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand.