In March 2020 about seven and a half million people and about a million businesses had a lifeline thrown to them under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The scheme allowed companies to furlough their workers with the majority of their wages being funded centrally by the British taxpayer utilising tens of billions of pounds of additional national borrowing and debt.
This short term solution isn’t permanently sustainable so as the COVID-19 crisis gradually eases more businesses are being allowed to reopen and we will soon all be back to work. Lockdown is ending.
But how easy will it be to return?
Firstly, many managers and supervisors have already started to go back to reset our working environments to set out our new social distancing practices of keeping two metres apart. Modelled on government and industry recommendations and examples based on the designs worked out and rehearsed by our national supermarkets. By using notices, taped areas, arrows, perspex screens and reduced traffic we will be entering a slightly strange version of the place we abandoned in a relative hurry just a couple of short months ago.
Some of us, due to our particular jobs and restrictive work places may not be able to do all our work ideally spaced from our colleagues and there will inevitably be a lot of dancing and hopping about as we pass each other and jostle for position at toilets, photocopiers and shared work terminals. Fun at first but eventually tiring and frustrating when the novelty wears off for different people at different times.
I foresee much frustration and anger between those who maintain the need to isolate for their own sanity or the safety of their families at home and those who care less about the potential reoccurrence of the virus. The latter presumably from the same pool of people we have witnessed crowding onto beaches and into parks in a desperate last minute ditch to get some sun because slightly recolouring their skin seems worth the risk to them and their families of dying whilst desperately coughing up a sickening disease.
Much the above is pretty much widely known or already considered. What hasn’t been covered is the fact that our sustained absence from our colleagues may bring some unexpected problems.
I’m not referring to the potential issues of subconscious, petty jealousy or alternatively envy caused by the gradual returning of staff, between those who wanted to return early or those who didn’t, or couldn’t. There will inevitably some of this going on and we should make allowances.
What I am concerned about is whether this period has actually made us forget about some critical things.
Already there will be a natural variance in speed that some people can reengage with their work but add in learning new practices and processes caused by renewed working arrangements we should be sympathetic to those who cannot get back into the swing as fast as others.
But before all that what about our personal greetings to those we haven’t seen daily for many weeks? We are all used to going on holiday breaks for a few days or even a couple of weeks and returning to a barrage of ‘hellos’, ‘how are you doings’, ‘tell us about its’ and ‘at last you’re back there’s a pile of work awaiting yous’. Now we have all shared the break together so these salutations will be even more intense.
There is, however, another thing to factor in. Particularly if we work in large establishments or haven’t been working there long before all this blew up. How good are you at remembering names?
This issue has troubled me for ages, long before this pandemic. Each morning I greet about a dozen people before the novelty of the day has waned and because of the irregular first entry time into my main workplace these dozen people may differ. For each of those greetings I use a mix of ‘hellos’, ‘good mornings’ and ‘how are you?s’ dependant on the duration of the meet. And for good measure and politeness I add their name where possible. It makes the salutation more personal and assists in human camaraderie.
The responses I get vary from enthusiastic greetings through polite acknowledgement to complete ignorance as if I am actually invisible. This hurts but I have learnt not to be offended if I get no response because I cannot know what is consuming their inner thoughts at the time. Plus with repeat offenders I think their rudeness is a personal trait burden that they themselves have to carry.
Another consideration here may be another issue that prevents civil response. Embarrassment. That is they do know you but at that point, or possibly always, they cannot for the life of them remember your name so turn away or ignore you as this is easier.
It happens to us all. Just think of all the films and TV you see, recognising thousands of faces, what they do and have been in but you are unable to recall their name. Just the same in your busy workplace. You recognise virtually every face but can you name them all? It is probably a natural human condition, a result of our long having eyesight and less developed period of vocal speech and in particular identity.
In practice at work it may be that you rarely meet, maybe have never spent time working closely together or even you were not there when they were marched round with the supervisor to be introduced. It seems that there is a window of about two weeks when you get a chance to ask a newby their name, after that the question becomes psychologically difficult.
In theory you should never be embarrassed about making a ‘late’ introduction. “Hey, we’ve known each other for three years now and do you know what, I don’t know your name. What is it?” Would you be offended if someone asked you this? Even if you knew many small details about them.
Name badges help of course but not everyone wears these and as they are usually pinned on the chest it can feel awkward to attempt to stare at tiny fonts placed in that area on a woman. And what sort of name is ‘Fruit of the Loom’ anyway?
The theory of name badges could assist though if we are prepared to rip up convention and adapt a novel approach to introductions.
What about the idea that when we offer salutation we should include our own moniker.
I shouldn’t greet you with the words “Hello Karen” but instead say “Hello Vince”. After all I can always remember my name. This does at first sound strange but will avoid any faux pas if your name is not Karen but was instead Bill. Plus time will resolve the issue of strangeness.
The downside is getting universal acceptance of this change. The upsides are that we are never embarrassed by forgetting a name again and constantly remind each other of our own identity, which can be as formal, informal or extravagant as we choose.
Maybe as we come out of this unprecedented period we could take the chance to make an unprecedented change for the better.
Author: Vince Poynter
This article was adapted from my website entry within the Blog section dated 24 May 2020
With apologies to all those key workers and staff that have had to work throughout this time and never experienced a furloughing. I thank you all