Nuance in a Binary World - Pt.1

May 26, 2020 | In ARTICLES & RESEARCH | By Neil Salton, ChangeWorq Founder and Managing Director

Nuance in a Binary World - Pt.1

What will the world of work and the workplace look like for the remainder of 2020 and beyond? I’ve been having many conversations with clients during the last few weeks, resulting in this, the first in a series of articles, aimed at fellow Real Estate & Project professionals. Coming soon will be the findings from our recent research and we plan to use our new scenario planning tool, so we can use data to drive more informed conclusions.

We’ve seen plenty of commentary over the last few months with a distinct lack of nuance. We plan to add subtlety and use an evidence-based approach and play a part in finding a path forward, or at the very least, a better understanding of the considerations. 

So; when exactly will we go back to ‘normal’?

Perhaps the most common question and almost unanswerable. We are keen to get back to our old routine, while simultaneously being nervous about what lies ahead.

Most of us are relying on science to provide the answers and have the conclusions communicated clearly and promptly by our governments. As a resident of Singapore, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen on TV and in print here, but even then, people seem to want more: i.e. an exact date, a guarantee of zero risk etc.

Unfortunately, life is messy & complicated and there are no certainties. We have to rely on a balance of probability and judgement, and deal with new circumstances as situations unfold.

That's why the WHEN we go back is comparatively easy - we can utilise clear evidence to decide. Where things get tricky, is the HOW we go back – the human impact. Amplifying the focus on people, not just businesses has the potential to accelerate the positive economic impacts as we re-stabilise lives, business and the global economy.

As someone who is gregarious by nature, I enjoy socialising with family and friends. But when all the restaurant and movie theatre doors open, you won’t find me at the front of the queue .... Why? Because I don't know if I can trust everyone around me.

My sense is that it’s going to be much the same at work. As we look around and wonder about the various hygiene habits of colleagues, we’ll be thinking about who coughs or sneezes without covering up and quietly wondering who has washed their hands properly or used a hand sanitiser.

I describe this as ‘my circle of trust’. How long will it take for our circle to expand to a point where we feel relaxed amongst our colleagues, let alone in public spaces? Driving this kind of change mean formulating plans that are owned by working groups and not just edicts ‘on behalf of the management’. You can also avoid the critical gap between what the company wants vs. how the employees feel.

Friends in Asia tell me that post SAR’s (2003) it was a surprisingly short period of time after which the masks were dropped, and things went back to normal. This was less true in some countries e.g. Hong Kong, where the impact of the pandemic was greater than in Singapore. We have been able to see the legacy of this time in Hong Kong where wearing a mask at the slightest hint of a cold is a social norm.

This time things seem different; the sheer scale of the pandemic has people more worried. We are involved in a number of projects right now, where the move date is imminent, and it's the human dimension that we are giving most attention to as we reassure staff about the next steps.

The starting point here is communications. In my opinion there are 4 critical success factors for great communications, namely:

  • Timing
  • Authenticity
  • Simplicity
  • Transparency


My first tip is, don’t delay; get your message out promptly. Note that prompt doesn't mean rushed, you must think things through, but remember my well-worn adage ... ‘in the absence of information, a conspiracy theory will always fill the gap!’


Writing this kind of content isn’t easy and the rule I normally recommend is “How would I feel if I received this communication or guideline?”. You need to get across the purpose, context and actions needed as a result of receiving the communication.

Being consistently authentic with your communications, will draw out the best from your people – even if it’s tough news. It means the end of speculation and gossip so everyone can focus on dealing with reality and doing the best they can with a shared purpose.


First, remember the rule described above. Second, write how you would speak i.e. naturally, and try not to write in ‘legalese’ and never use a long word when two short ones will do.

If you are struggling to write something, pick up your phone, set it to record and then speak. When you have retyped the copy, have a friend read it and ask them to tell you what they have understood. You can do some fine tuning until you know the reader fully understands what you were trying to say.


This is harder than you might think, but massively important. It’s obvious (one would hope) that you have to tell the truth, and you need to be aligned with your Leadership Team, Corporate Affairs and other stakeholders. You may not provide all the details and have to phase the delivery of your messaging, but you must be transparent. Without this, to coin a Shakespearean phrase ‘the truth will out’ and the loss of credibility is irretrievable.

This brings me to the end of the first article. Next time, we’ll be talking about space, what we have and how we use it, with the key question being what (if anything) needs to change and how. I want to challenge many of current themes and use hard data to justify my reasoning.

After that, we will be analysing the results of our Work-from-Home survey and examine how work may (or may not) change once we return. 

Thanks for staying with me, and feel free to contact me if you have any comments; details below. See you next time


Neil Salton

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