Last week on #BoFLIVE, BoF Careers Partners received an exclusive preview of the expert analysis and data-driven insights in BoF’s latest Careers White Paper, Fashion Is Working From Home. How to Make It Work.
Mark Mortensen, associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, joined co-authors Robin Mellery-Pratt and Sophie Soar to discuss some of the workplace challenges arising as fashion professionals and business leaders navigate these times.
According to Mortensen, two keys issues confronting managers are exacerbated by remote working: a lack of shared understanding and a lack of shared identity.
“The first one is cognitive, the second is emotional. If I were sitting in a room with any of the people watching this, there are things I would pick up for free. Now we have to put in time and effort [to better understand one another],” Mortensen said. “A shared sense of identity is the tension between us and them. When you work remotely, whether it’s technological issues or [navigating] time zones, there are new barriers that come between us.”
Outside of the initial crisis response and short-term adjustments managers must make to realign and reinvigorate their workforce, replacing “coffee-pot moments” — the informal yet essential off-project bonding — is crucial for the social health of the organisation. This allows a company’s culture to remain in-tact among long-distance colleagues.
Power structures are changing and people who had more ownership before find themselves in an unsettling position.
When asked about how fashion can pivot its workplace operations and handle the subsequent restructuring of power dynamics, Mortensen returned to the two key issues of understanding and identity to “add a third to the Venn diagram”: power.
“Any time two people in your organisation have competing ideas of what is the best way forward, there is a tension and potential source of power being exercised,” said Mortensen. “What is particularly relevant now is power structures are changing and people who had [more] ownership and influence [before] find themselves in an unsettling position.”
Finally, we discussed how people will want to work post-pandemic. Fashion is re-evaluating what it can achieve from a distance, enabled by virtual tools. A return to business-as-usual now seems unlikely.
This time has also “forced people over or through the learning curve,” according to Mortensen. Once the initial enthusiasm for returning to the workplace wears off, routines we have adopted during lockdown will begin to appear again. As a result, companies will need to bake flexible working arrangements into their businesses to appeal to a wider workforce moving forward. To learn more, download the BoF Careers White Paper.