12 Months On… What Have We Learned?

A year ago, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Whilst some leaders are hoping to return to the way things were (working from the office, full time BAU), there is a near-universal agreement that many organisations will adopt a hybrid work model once lockdowns lift. This would allow employees to split their time between the office, the home and other workspaces as they see fit.

My view is that the world of work has transformed for the better.

Covid forced us to really put our unlimited 5G, choice of virtual collaboration tools and Christmas Air Pods to the test. Employees mastered the art of self-discipline, virtual communication and collaboration; and managers walked the walk-in terms of fostering employee trust. But what else have we learned?

Flexible working can play a key role in workplace strategy

Ask friends and colleagues and many have had a positive experience working from home. So it makes sense that, according to our latest research report (‘I Don’t Like Mondays & Fridays’), the majority of UK knowledge workers want to work flexibly at least 2-3 days a week post-pandemic, with Mondays and Fridays likely to be the more popular days to WFH. Through smart preparation and workplace strategy, organizations can reap the benefits of flexible working to improve space optimisation and workplace utilisation, reduce running costs, ensure a happier workforce and reduce their carbon footprint (see the report to find out more).

We’ve acclimatised to new habits and patterns of thinking

Much of why people are often sceptical to change is rooted in neuroscience. Our ‘new(ish) normal’ is now going out for noon walks, organising and participating in video calls, sharing screens, and not wasting hours of the day on public transit. Over time, these habits and thought patterns, that have created new neural connections in our brains, will likely become as hardwired as the old practices, which will only cause further resistance to a return to the old way.

There’s no going back (or let’s hope not)

Preparations are already underway to make offices safe. But these steps may only go halfway to appeasing employees. Many have enjoyed greater control of where, when and how they work – and few will give that up easily. However, in order for employees to have this kind of autonomy and power, leaders will be instrumental in actioning a step change in the process, infrastructure and behaviours that govern their organizations. They should collate all pandemic learnings and use them to create new workforce guidelines to meet the needs and desires of their employees whilst also helping the organisation meet business goals.

As a result of the above, our research indicates organisations will likely opt for one of four workplace (or more workforce) models:

  1. Office based – organisations that require employees to head to an office every day because they cannot meet specific business demands while working from home.
  2. Office centric – ones that deem team activities are best suited to the office but can afford some flexibility.
  3. Home centric hybrid – ones that recognise that most work tasks can be done from home but understand there is a strong social and business need to have everyone come together regularly in a physical setting.
  4. Home centric – teams that work entirely from home, and only use the corporate office to meet people, celebrate or socialise.

Whichever suits your organization’s needs, proactive workplace strategy, management and leadership is key

Leaders and department heads need to consider the workplace’s role in a hybrid model and what value employees get from it (collaboration, learning, mental health and / or social connectivity).  A smart change strategy can then ensure effective office utilisation, optimisation and positive employee experience.

But moving towards a more hybrid model will certainly pay dividends, including the potential for lower running costs, lower demand for space, reduced commutes, a happier workforce and greater productivity, whilst enabling organisations to reduce their carbon emissions. 

We’ve made great strides – let’s keep going

Whether the office will continue to be central to your workplace model, or serve as a satellite for home working, leaders need to seriously rethink their practices, optimise their remote working infrastructure and reinvent their culture. 

Remote working can play a significant role in their future workplace strategy. While it won’t suit everyone or every business function, it will likely serve as an effective starting point in the planning process.

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