The Eavesdrop

Feb 22, 2024 | AgileAus, Feature Articles, Guest Blogs

I can recall many instances when I’ve heard something useful while visiting the kitchen or the bathroom at work. I bet you can too!
That day when you pick up the tail end of a conversation when you gather someone’s partner is ill and you clock it and it proves useful information when they arrive late and frazzled to a meeting the next morning or when you overhear someone swear under their breath after getting off the phone from a particular client and you feel relieved ’cause you are feeling that way about them too! Or it might be the visual eavesdrop when you notice perhaps a baby bump growing under your colleague’s jumper or perhaps you clock a weariness in someone’s gait that suggests that all is not well with them.

Paying attention to these small signs and cues can bring ease to our relationships at work. It also helps us gain important information – especially when we are new to a job – of what is going on, what is expected and what is not.

The eavesdrop is at risk for those who can do our work from home and increasingly do. The pandemic-led flexibility has continued with many workplaces still enabling it, and in many cases embracing the WFH culture. Almost one-third of those who are able to, now work from home on a regular basis.

There are lots of benefits to working outside the eavesdropping bubble! You’re able to concentrate solidly on what needs to be done with no open-plan interruptions from a colleague’s loud telephone conversation, another happy birthday singing, or just a silly question that breaks your train of thought. You don’t have to grapple with public transport or traffic or parking. You don’t have to find matching shoes or an umbrella. And you save heaps of money not forking out for all those things (and for some, the extra childcare costs if you have to pay someone to look after your children during your commute time!).

But I confess that I miss the eavesdrop. I look back and see how well the eavesdrop has served me over the years. All the time it’s dropped information to me that I did not even know I needed – and I did!

The eavesdrop is dying out because so many of us are remote a lot now. The best part of an eavesdrop is its randomness and unpredictability. You cannot plan for an eavesdrop; you cannot recreate an eavesdrop and you cannot dictate what it will reveal.

When I work from home, I think about me! I think about my needs and quite often (a little too often!) about the needs of my family (washing out, quick wipe of the bench – you know the sort of thing!) How do we know what the needs are of those we work with when they are out of sight? When every exchange has to be planned, scheduled, remembered? Do we build our EQ when nothing much happens out of the ordinary? No one breaks into tears into our office, no one is caught smoking in the bathroom or laughing over some text they just received? These spontaneous moments are what build our emotional muscles, they build our relationships with our colleagues and even though they don’t currently equate to ’productivity’, I would suggest they make work more connected and more fulfilling and this might be the key to long-term productivity and connection in our lives.

In my role championing the Agile Australia community, I’m often asked about working from home. My view is that we are all still living in one big experiment! While Agile people love experiments, they also love small steps and some level of planning. For the record, this has been one GIANT step – an experiment that was not of our choosing or design. Overnight all of us had to find the space and aptitude for Zooming and devise ways to keep in touch with colleagues.

My hunch is that if we had designed this experiment we would have done it in a much slower way, building in steps for measuring and reviews. Five years from now, we might know what the effect has been on those who started their jobs without meeting their colleagues IRL – and for those who were let go via email. We might know how it affects people who live in small apartments on their own, building great tech, but not developing great friendships through their work.

Like everything in this world, it seems, the discussion about working from home has made people feel like they need to take sides. In our hearts we know the answers are ‘it depends’ and ‘let’s wait and see’.

Before we declare our sides on this experiment we need to remember it is an experiment, albeit one forced upon us! For better or worse, the jury is still out on how our places of work might evolve. All I know is that whenever I am at my home desk, I long to eavesdrop.


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