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VOL. 45 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 7, 2021

Is the pandemic helping level workplace hierarchy?

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The past 14 months have changed the nature of work, especially for remote workers. Many no longer spend hours in the car, making their way to one shared office building. They’re waking up and joining their colleagues via Zoom. And, this remote environment is transforming more than just our morning commute.

Just look at today’s job openings. Many companies are now posting one job in multiple cities or simply listing the job as remote.

What’s considered normal has evolved.

Companies are being more flexible in order to be competitive. In the past, employees needed to live in the city where the company was located. If they lived in a market with few opportunities, they might be out of luck unless they were willing to uproot their life.

In the world of remote work, employees can now accept jobs that are outside of their local area.

But the changes go beyond physical location to include the work dynamic.

A large part of our work culture is made up of meetings. We gather to discuss ideas and to work on projects. And there is a hierarchy in many of these meetings. People position themselves in a meeting room based on important factors.

Often, the highest-ranking employees are seated at the table. Lower-ranking employees can be found in chairs farther from the center of the room, such as along the wall. At the table, workers sit at the head of the table or near the middle based on their status or a desired perception.

This hierarchy is reduced in an online meeting. Every employee is given a small video square that is the same size as everyone else in the meeting, regardless of seniority. Participants often raise their hand in the meeting want to speak up. And, they are called on to speak based on how soon their raised their hand.

No one is any closer to the most senior executives in Zoom meetings.

Beyond this, what we wear to work is now less status oriented. On video, it’s harder to view a full outfit, which has led many workers to switch to more relaxed athletic wear.

Casual conversations also are less casual. There are big downsides to this lack of team interaction. But, if someone felt left out of important networking opportunities, this is likely no longer the case.

Working remotely also allows employees to set up a home work environment that works well for them. So, rather than a standard office setup that might be undesirable, each person is able to design a custom environment that is the most productive for them.

Not all of the changes are positive. For those with family responsibilities at home, including children, remote work might be more challenging.

And, regardless of how you feel about remote work, one thing is for sure: It is changing the way we work together.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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