I was a very quiet child.
I know it’s hard to believe, now.
But it’s true.
As I wrote before, being outspoken, present, bold… is a learned attribute for me. One that isn’t always comfortable. One that is often exhausting, but one I won’t be losing any time soon. It’s here to stay now.
So I will say ‘hold up right there’ and ‘WTF was that’ and ‘that doesn’t work for me’ where once upon a time I wouldn’t have, and those things would have remained unseen and unaddressed.
But I know I wasn’t always like this and many, many aren’t like me.
As the Great Work From Home Debate is unfolding and becoming more than a little divisive, I will confess I am getting increasingly worried.
I love not having to commute early in the morning and working with my shoes off and making my own lunch. But I miss my colleagues, the buzz of my team, the unintentional learning that happens around other human beings. I miss roaming further than my dining room table.
My own preferences are mixed and I suspect many are the same. So the debate is healthy. It is needed and timely.
That said, there are parts of the debate that really worry me.
The first flag is the simple fact that everyone in favour of continuing to work from home seems to think our work-life balance has on the whole improved as a result of not commuting, that people spend more quality time with children and partners and nap during the day when tired.
I am sure that is true of some. But my colleagues, clients, friends and business partners seem to occupy a different reality of much longer hours, exhaustion and burnout. Working from home isn’t the problem here.
The way we used to work is the problem and the habits that kicked into overdrive to compensate for the change when the lockdowns started are the problem.
Although there are plenty of voices saying it’s time we changed how we work (and they are right), burnout may occur in droves before the change lands.
That’s not an argument for returning to the office by the way. It’s an argument for getting on with the work and not the argument itself.
The second flag is also the much-discussed middle class bias.
Not everyone has a study at home.
I know many of us work form kitchen tables because we don’t have the space for anything different.
But at least I have peace.
I don’t live in a house-share. I don’t live in a place where there are more humans than doors to shut in order to go on a call or concentrate in silence. I don’t have space, but I have quiet. Both are a premium that is closely tied to income.
But the third flag is the one nobody truly talks of because it’s invisible and it is the one that worries me the most.
We have spoken of what happens to the young, to their learning and development, when we are not in the office. But what happens to our introverts? The ones who don’t flag their needs, the ones that quietly get on with work and don’t say ‘hey, I’m drowning’, and we don’t know they are because, well, there are no outward signs of it.
There’s a small team, and one person resigns leaving only one other person with the skillset to do both their jobs.
No matter, we will hire to replace him, hang on in there till we do, says management to the remaining team member.
So the remaining person, let’s call him David (because that’s his name) picks up two people’s worth of work. The days bleed into weeks and the weeks into months. He works nights, he works weekends, the work gets done. He doesn’t tell anybody his hours are out of control. He doesn’t chase them for updates of the hire.
He has the word of his management team that they are on this.
And they are not in the office, so the visual prompt of the empty desk where the replacement should sit or the light at David’s desk burning at odd hours isn’t there as a constant reminder to do something.
The management and colleagues don’t forget exactly, but there are so many fires to fight. And this isn’t on fire. David is getting the work done, no deadlines are missed. So their headspace is spent elsewhere putting out fires. They don’t de-prioritise it exactly. They just get to the end of the day before they get to this on their to-do list.
And the months pass.
Are they bad managers? No. They are human.
Is David at fault for not flagging the situation?
Of course not.
It’s not his way. He works hard, does what is needed. He is not someone who asks for things or complains.
Do you know how many of them you have in your team?
It’s a genuine question.
Stop and reflect. You probably don’t know how many of them you have because you haven’t needed to think about it because, you got it, they get on with things and you never know that they are drowning because they won’t tell you. And you don’t notice because the work gets done. And your attention isn’t drawn to the price they are paying to get it done.
So in the Great Work From Home Debate, think about all the things we used to be able to see without someone telling us that we are completely blind to now. Think of the Davids of the world. Think of the introverts. And whatever you do next don’t leave them behind. Because you will soon realise just how much they were carrying and it will be a tad late to protect, reward and recognise them. And now you will have to tackle the mountain of work you didn’t even know was getting done day in, day out because you couldn’t see it and it wasn’t on fire.
I am not saying go back to the office as a fix for this.
David doesn’t want to go back to the office.
But as a former quiet child, I worry what happens to the things we do not see. What happens to the people who don’t demand to be seen.
The office, with its noise, peacocks and politics, was hardly an optimum environment for the introverts. But out of sight, out of mind is a clear and present danger for those quietly soldiering on hoping someone will remember they need help, someone will notice they are doing a good job.
I personally don’t care whether we go back or not.
I am highly adaptable and enjoy aspects of each version of the future.
I care that we get better at looking for the things that don’t demand our attention. And the people who don’t monopolise the limelight.
Whether we go back or not.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!