Over the past month, as over two-thirds of the country has been sent home to work, corporate cultures are being revealed in a not so flattering way.

I spent many years, feels like 200, working at a leading technology company. Every day was frantic, running from meeting to meeting with barely enough time to eat, drink, or think. The unspoken understanding was that busier you were, the more valuable you were to the business. There was an air of importance to the work that you were involved in if you filled your days with back to back meetings.  Now that the world is on forced lockdown, leveraging video conferencing rather than meeting rooms, the “busy equals value “ American corporate culture is out in the open.

I now lead a consulting practice, my team and I have worked remotely for five years.  Over the past week, as I have talked to corporate clients via video conference, it is clear that adjusting to not being seen working is wearing on them. I hear the panic in their voices.

Each call invariably begins with “I was on calls until late last night, and since 6:00 a.m. this morning.” With the benefit of distance and practice, I can’t help but ask “why”? Is time logged on video calls a measure of peoples worth to the business? Are businesses evaluating their workforce on their call stamina?  I understand that there are plans to adjust and new issues coming up as a result of the national crisis we are all living through; however, virtual vs. in-person meetings is not an even trade. 

There are even products on the market that will photograph employees at the home stations every 2- 5 minutes and transmit those images through a corporate VPN connection to ensure that people are, in fact, working while they are home.

Is all of this busyness really helping to drive leadership for American businesses? Or is it a sign that things need to change?  For years there has been talk about how much more productive technology makes us and how our devices free us to work from anywhere and be more efficient when in reality, the corporate culture has not progressed since the industrial revolution. One hundred years ago, workers were paid for their productivity. Productivity translated directly to the number of things you could deliver in a specific workday or shift. This mentality has been carried into the information age with employee value being judged by time in the office, their ability to respond to email 24/7 and how many vacations days they don’t take

One of the lessons we should take forward form this disruption of work is that going back to the way things have always been may not be the best way.  Is Twelve to fifteen hours of video calls a day the best way to achieve your business goals or is there a path forward that will strengthen both our businesses and our employees?