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While many business are still understanding what post-pandemic offices will look like, one thing that is clear is the need for agility and flexibility over where employees choose to work. In recent weeks we have seen high profile companies such as the Bank of England and BT offering up their new hybrid models of working, with employee time split between the office and home. Others have rejected remote working with a clear statement of intent to bring their workforce back to the office five days a week. With little input from the UK Government and the stay-at-home order still in place, it is difficult to predict what the return to the office will look like.
To understand it a little more, Leeson Medhurst, Head of Strategy at Peldon Rose, joined Dan May, Commercial Director at Ramsac, and Ally Maughan, founder of People Puzzles, to share thoughts during a webinar on what this new era of working may look like and how it will shape the future of the office.
Ally: One of the biggest challenges we have faced is that everyone wants something different when it comes to where and how they work. Flexibility will be key to successfully encouraging staff back to the office. For many businesses, due to the continuation of uncertainty, it has been difficult to plan ahead and create a process for what this new landscape will look like. We will need to weigh up what works face-to-face and what we have been able to adapt to over the past year, alongside other factors including culture and wellbeing. It will also need to be a balance of what the needs of the employer are and the needs of the business. There is an option for a well-blended work pattern but it will take time to reach that point.
Dan: Businesses suddenly had to pivot to the new style of working from home, with million-pound transactions now taking place from kitchen tables, something we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in 2019. Although we were still able to complete the requirements of our roles, for many individuals, crucial areas such as development became non-existent. There was a sense of a loss of creativity and well as unplanned conversation during watercooler moments. As much as we were able to run productivity sessions, we found that managers just wanted their employees face-to-face.
Leeson: It’s important that we accept that this movement of not having an office does exist and will continue to do so in the future. We accept that people can now work without an office, but it is our responsibility to ask businesses why they want an office and what is the purpose of the space. Through the optic of people we are now moving into a period of blended working, but we need to factor in organisational structures taking a deep look at how the business functions.
Leeson: When looking at the needs and wants of the next generation, novelty and human behaviour should be factored into the equation. There is now a constant requirement to be entertained. For many, the excitement surrounding the first lockdown and the opportunity to work from home, soon wore off. We now need to create workspaces that are constantly providing these moments of novelty as it is not the office we miss, but the novelty of doing something different. Returning to the office will increase our social capital as well as the novelty that surrounds experiencing different people.
The more that social capital is instilled in our lives, the easier it is to build networks and trust. We have spent the last year trying to interface in a 2-dimensional way with our colleagues, learning and adapting to it. However, this has meant that we haven’t bonded and formed deeper relationships like we may have done previously with our colleagues. It's like internet dating, we form opinions of people easily and don’t have the social cues that we used to have. We aren’t interacting or learning from our colleagues and therefore there is a loss of social capital.
Ally: Without social capital and face-to-face conversation it can be hard to form trust, which forms the baseline of a good team. When you’re working virtually, you have to carve out time to engender that level of trust. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’ either, it is essential and it allows you to make better business decisions.
Ally: For People Puzzles, the majority of the business choose when and where they want to work and have been doing so long before the pandemic. We work hard to bring people together for occasions such as team inductions, regional meetings and conferences that goes alongside our online learning platform and regular weekly comms. Although at times this can make it harder to change processes within the business and requires additional planning, we are forced to think creatively to tackle the challenges that we are faced with. Companies will need to consider how work flows through their business, creating a process that allows for points of fiction but maintains eyes on efficiency. They will need to have a blended perspective of the individuals and the business to get everyone on the change journey
Leeson: In an ideal world we would create a blank canvas to enable us to meet the dynamic needs of the organisation. We can then build upon that canvas accommodating flexibility and agility. The past year saw many start to challenge why they were going into the office. We now need to think about creating spaces that are seen as a destination that employees want to travel to. As humans, we need choice in the office environment and more spaces the develop alongside us and the business.
There will be a natural surge back to the office, with those seeking a novel experience. Once the dust settles and that novelty fades employees will begin to remember the benefits of working from home. Businesses who are making real estate decisions need to take this into consideration, and create a space that caters for this need of flexibility. However, this will require balance and fairness and careful considerations over how this is formulated.