Much like everyone else around the world, I’ve been adjusting to the new norm of working from home. It felt a little jarring at first, but I’ve settled into a routine now, and I’m actually finding that things are picking up again, and I’m sure others are feeling the same way. However, I have noticed the first major change: there seems to be a huge uptick in the amount of asynchronous communication (i.e. non real time). For me, that has manifested itself as way more email. I was wondering why that might be happening, and I came to one clear conclusion: everyone’s work hours and availability is going through a great dislocation.
When you literally go to work it means that most people in the same time zone have the same potential availability – roughly 8am to 6pm – and they are at work, with a single focus. However, when most people are working from home, along with everyone else in their household, it means calendars are thrown into flux. All of a sudden work and personal life are mixing, meaning that calendars must adapt. There is no clear delineation between work time and personal time, and the two become much more intertwined. It means some people may only be able to work very early, and very late, with family responsibilities in between. It means some people may start sleeping in, and working later. It means some people might have to adapt every day. Throw into that mix the closing of every school, and it only gets messier. This is perhaps the greatest calendar dislocation that has ever happened in the working world. You can no longer assume that people are ‘working’ between 9am and 5pm.
What does that mean? It means you have to pass the ball back and forth, and allow people to respond on their own schedule. It means less real time communication, and more dislocated communication. While it’s a little self-serving to our view of the world, it fundamentally means more email. Email represents the best asynchronous communication channel in the world, and as people adapt their schedule and availability to a litany of demands, that channel is only becoming more important. I was once told that “email is a to-do list that other people set for you” – and right now, that couldn’t be more true.
It also means that timing around when to have real time communication is going to become more important. Knowing when to call is perhaps going to become the most important piece of tactical information. You don’t know when your client is going to be available anymore, so any data or indication you can leverage to that end will be better for you, and your client. Is your client catching up on emails at 8pm when the kids are finally asleep? That might be a good time to call.
This pandemic is having impacts on the markets, working structures, and communication styles that we can’t even appreciate yet, and I’m sure it will take a long time for them to set in. One thing I can already tell is that individuals are having to re-arrange their schedules and challenge traditional working hours in order to manage their personal commitments. This means that communication is going to shift away from real time, to non-real time channels, such as email. It means timeliness will become even more important. It means adjusting to the schedule of your clients, and making sure you’re placing that call at the right time – which may no longer be inside traditional norms that existed only a few weeks ago.
The world is adjusting quickly, and the only thing that is certain is there is more change to come. Traditional working hours are gone. What will be next?
Stay safe out there,