“…Now, here are the ground rules: There are no breaks, no personal calls, no sick days, no coming in late and no loafing off. You get thirty minutes for lunch – and you better get back on time, because there are fifty people waiting to take your desk if you fuck up…” 

–Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Stret:

How Monday Destroyed a WallStreet Superman

Overnight, a switch got thrown. It didn’t happen equally and it didn’t happen everywhere but when coronavirus landed, it slipped into cubicles, then up and down skyscrapers, before visiting every office across the land. All that banter, the bluster, the secret handshakes and gentlemen’s agreements; everywhere deals got sealed, in all the rooms where it happened, got shut down. 

Five months later,  no one is waiting to take anyone’s desk – because for the first time, “being there” is no longer a requirement. An unexpected opportunity, for vastly underappreciated intergenerational synergies, has opened up.

The shut down left everyone reeling from the news that 76% of global workers won’t be heading back into the office again, ever. Unsurprisingly, people have decided they  prefer not to have to commute and they like the sense of autonomy that remote work offers. 

In NYC since lockdown, offices that held upwards 10K people are seeing less than a thousand return. Stats like these have sent office planning officers into overdrive, reconsidering intra company digital footprints, communication flows and coming to interesting conclusions: it’s no longer necessary to pay for prime real estate. Conventional offices always put senior employees in corner offices and lesser employees in cube farms but with everyone WFH, corner offices have lost their chutzpah. 

In London, the head of people or KPMG, Anna Purchase, was quoted thus: “This is a chance to break free from engrained, traditional routines and say goodbye to presenteeism” and they’ve just decided to let their 17K strong staff spend part of the week working remotely with offices serving as “hubs for staff to share ideas.”  KPMG is onto something, intergen teams work because they connect doers with thinkers from across organizations and from both ends of the age spectrum.  Evidence supports that they create greater business and economic benefits.

Now offers a rare chance to peel back the socially and physically constructed barriers that have hindered age inclusive collaboration. In the same way that diversity has been aided by blind recruitment practices, COVID time is contributing to levelling the playing field, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. 

Zoom, Crowdcast, Mural and other technologies allow people to join meetings –  age blind, if they wish. When people that you wouldn’t have normally been able to get close to are suddenly accessible via the chat feature on Zoom, the original guiding and democratizing principles of sharing information on the internet is happening in real time. When age isn’t an obvious factor and anyone can Zoom into a meeting, our voices and unique contributions can increase in value. That turns age and gender balanced teams into game changers, particularly when the team composition of diverse teams is numerically balanced. 

Research indicates that people 55 and over use nearly that same number of kinds of tech as 18-34 year olds. While generational differences in the forms of communication utilized do exist and while digital exclusion is a significant problem, enabled older people have clearly risen to the new challenge. Provided the older workers are properly advised and equipped to work in virtual settings, they are equally motivated and adaptable. 

Economists are predicting that only 58% of workers are likely to even return to their previous jobs..  If younger and older workers are the casualties of the pandemic, employers will not only lose their risk takers but more critically their risk readers, their risk assessment experts. Covid-19 time has torn up the rule book and virtual proximity is enabling.  

With everyone  OOO, “being there” is no longer where it’s at. 

And that ought to work, for all ages.

Deborah Gale