Ready or not, Boris thinks it’s time to return to the office post-COVID19.
At the start of the pandemic the advice was clear: stay home. Workers hurriedly grabbed their laptops and chargers – the lucky ones also took their screens – and set up ‘shop’ at home. All of a sudden, every office worker was taking part in the world’s biggest remote working experiment. Gulp. Some discovered a new found flexibility, some felt crushing isolation. Some juggled childcare alongside the day job, some embarked on a fitness regime in their former commuting window. The common theme – we adapted, we found a way to get by, some of us even found it fun. Oh and we all learned to Zoom. Even my 94 year old grandad.
There’s been challenges. Poor internet connection, social isolation, bad office set ups. Most of us have found a new joy in just leaving the house. Mental health issues are on the rise. We’re missing coffee with our work pals, the incidental learning that happens around the office.
It’s not all bad…
But whether we like it or not, we have to acknowledge that the closure of offices has created some benefits. Our cities are less polluted, lengthy commutes are a thing of the past, and with it those morning stress levels are reduced. Some of us have swapped Pret for our local high street caff, and we’re getting more time with our families.
In fact, according to analysis from Cardiff University, 88% of people who have worked from home through the pandemic want to continue in some capacity and almost half (47%) want to work at home all the time.
That’s why Dettol’s recent tube ad caused such an uproar. For those who missed it, it read:
“Hearing an alarm. Putting on a tie. Carrying a handbag. Receptionists. Caffeine-filled air. Taking a lift. Seeing your second family. Watercooler conversations. Proper bants. The boss’s jokes. Plastic plants. Office gossip. Those weird carpets. Face-to-face meetings. Not having to make lunch. CCing. BCCing. Accidentally replying-all. Hearing buzzwords. Leaving early for a cheeky afternoon in the sun. Disinfect surfaces we use throughout the day, so we can do it all again tomorrow.”
Even reading that feels a bit exhausting. But to many, it felt at odds with the true employee experience. Let’s face it, no one misses the sound of their alarm. And most of us are still using it… what this demonstrates is something we all know. All of us are different. We have different wants and needs. We all feel differently about the situation we find ourselves in. For that reason, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Big businesses are thinking differently
There’s been a few notable businesses who spoke out early on about their stance on home working. Barclay’s CEO Jes Staley said ‘putting 7000 people into a building may be a thing of the past’, and given that a business spends on average 9% of their outgoings on rent, it’s easy to see why. Facebook and Google have both said their offices won’t reopen until 2021 at the earliest. Morgan Stanley has agreed to operate with no footprint. Capita is planning to rid itself of a third of its offices. In short, what we’re seeing is rapid, global change to the way we do work.
Back to business
Now, after five months of working at home, offices are slowly starting to open their doors. Boris Johnson made an impassioned plea for us to return to offices to revive our cities and high streets decimated by the total loss of footfall. But the advice to businesses is confusing, and many were hoping for a more advanced track and trace system to be in place before opening their doors.
But perhaps the most jarring part of this ‘back to work’ campaign is the fact we’re being told to go ‘back to work’ at all. Hang on. What exactly does he think we’ve been doing for the past few months? There’s an undercurrent that working at home means working less, but those of us who’ve been doing it know that simply isn’t the case. For some, that lack of definition between work and home has seen their hours creep beyond the 9-5, seeping into every hour, meaning they’re working harder than ever. But government officials have doubled down saying that workers should be concerned about not being ‘seen to be at their desk’, because those who are out of sight, will be the first out of the door when it comes to restructures. To me this prompts a question. What matters to you more: how many hours your employees spend working, or how much work they produce? If it’s the latter, the government’s argument is redundant, and we’re worrying about the wrong things.
The CIPD is asking businesses to answer three questions: is returning to the workplace essential? Is it sufficiently safe to do so? And is it mutually agreed with the worker?
That last point is so important. Too much of the press coverage we’re seeing is forgetting one simple question: what do your people want? If you can answer this, you’re half way to formulating a plan. The kind of plan that isn’t just going back, but taking what you’ve learned and using that to go forward to something better.
So what now? We can help.
It’s important to understand the wants and needs of your people to be able to design an employee experience that embodies who you are, but also who you want to be going forward. This is what we love to do, and it’s a project we’ve already embarked upon with one of our global technology clients.
If you’re wondering where to start, here’s 5 steps you can take right now:
1. Do your research
A simple survey is going to make a world of difference right now. Supplement that with focus groups or interviews from a cross section of your business so you can make decisions confident in the knowledge of what your people are saying and feeling across your geographies. At Home, we’re experts in making research feel comfortable, and getting to the bottom of what your employees really think. Using an external agency can be helpful in this.
2. Support your managers
Managers have had a tough ride of it throughout this pandemic. Many have been plunged into managing remote teams for the first time, not to mention the mental health strain placed upon both them and their teams. They need support. So keep the communication lines open and consider training on the areas you feel you have the biggest gaps. We’ve recently developed a series of mental health training materials for one of our clients, helping managers to spot when team members need support and offering guidance on how to approach that. Just think what a game changer that could be if every organisation took the time to implement mental health support…
3. Think culture
It’s important that if your people are working at home they still feel that essence of who you are as an organisation on a daily basis. Think about the things that make you, you and work out how to replicate that. So if a lack of hierarchy is your thing, why not set up CEO zoom calls, or creating a virtual buddy system that cuts across roles and functions? We’ve worked on unifying, digital campaigns throughout the pandemic to help our clients to do just this, and their teams have rallied together.
4. Flex appeal
If you make the decision to be flexible on location, it’s worth opening up the discussion with your leadership team about true flexibility. If people can work at home, but are expected to be tethered to their desk 9-5, how feasible is that? And how flexible are you really? Your research will play a key part here in helping to bring the voices of your people to the table.
Here at Home, we’ve launched a flexible working experiment for September. Our Homies are now able to work flexible hours from a flexible location. So if you’re a 9-5 office lover, then come on in, but if you’re a WFH loving night owl, that’s great too. We’re seeing how it feels for us and for our clients just now, but if it works, we’ll keep doing it.
5. Fit for purpose
We’d like to think you’ve done some of this already, but if you make the decision to extend your home working, it’s important to make sure your tech, systems and equipment are fit for purpose. This should also extend to ensuring a safe and comfortable working space – so why not ask your teams what tech they’re missing at home?
There’s no right answer – but isn’t it exciting to have the impetus to do things a little differently? A little better? We’ve never had a line in the sand moment quite like this one. So if you’re thinking about doing a culture check in specific areas, or redesigning your employee experience, now’s a great time. We’d love to help.