The Confinement : Opportunities for Businesses?
“What seems impossible is in fact entirely possible; it’s our self-imposed limits that constrain us.”
An opportunity to question
17 March 2020, a day that French people will never forget; the start of compulsory lockdown to ward off the Covid-19 pandemic. For businesses it was an unprecedented upheaval. Yet, despite the importance of the economic impacts on business, one could easily overlook a number of broader consequences of such a measure.
To what extent did the situation disrupt businesses beyond the financial impacts? How did work and management practices change and in what ways did it impact human relations? What did confinement reveal about organisational culture and the way businesses operate? Will the lockdown be a catalyst for transformation within companies?
Effects and implications for businesses
These questions framed our reflection and inspired us to examine the impacts of confinement on work and management practices in businesses. For the purposes of our research we conducted 31 semi-structured telephone interviews in 28 companies and associated organisations.
Our inquiry shows that confinement redefined the limits that frame the life of companies. By imposing an unparalleled constraint many possibilities emerged demonstrating the unexpected potential of such a destabilising situation.
The interviews showed that working remotely is not only entirely possible but can also be the source of greater efficiency without impacting quality. Yet, the experience of confinement also highlighted the limits of remote work, reinforcing the imperative of social ties within companies as well as the need for appropriate frameworks to optimise the compatibility of face-to-face and remote work.
Beyond the impact of confinement on day-to-day work we also observed effects on the understanding of the role of companies, the emergence of design opportunities, the practice of action learning, new responsibilities for line managers and a redefinition of the limits for collaboration.
In addition, those interviewed exposed an evolution in the perception of different boundaries within companies as a result of the lockdown. The role of the company, the place of the manager and collaboration expanded in a context which, ironically, restricted the movement of people and appeared to isolate them.
This same contradiction is also reflected in the way companies adapted by being forced to create new realities within. Faced with an unprecedented situation, companies not only learned experientially but by using their creativity, opening up possibilities that did not seem possible before.
Uncertainty: a catalyst for transformation
The sudden change to work practices occurred in a context characterised by uncertainty in spite of the business aversion to unpredictability. Rather than suggesting ways to return to the status quo as quickly as possible, our study identifies the transformation opportunities that emerged. It is our hope that this perspective will support companies in their reflection on how to capitalise on the lockdown experience. We only hope that as confinement restrictions are lifted the insights gained by embracing uncertainty will not be discarded as companies seek to find comfort in their certitudes of old.