We have learned a lot about how to work remotely over the past few months. As we take another deep breath to get through the winter ahead, now is a good time to review, reflect and make deliberate choices about how to work productively and healthily together in the next few months.
Wise teams will be taking time out to explore and understand the following:
- What have people loved about remote working?
- What are people missing about office life?
- What impact has remote working had on productivity and wellbeing?
- What does great look like for us in this next phase?
- What habits does the team want to keep for this next phase?
- What specific actions shall we take to make this happen?
Whilst learning from the recent past and planning the near future, organisations are also looking further ahead, trying to understand where their employees need to be working for greatest success.
- Entirely remotely based? – it’s attractive when considering cost-savings from expensive head offices and travel.
- Back to office working as it used to be? – early career employees are especially keen to get back to the social connections and tacit learning that come with office life.
- Or a hybrid? – it sounds appealing but how much office space is needed? What activities should be done in the office and which at home? Who should go in when?
There has been a plethora of research telling us what employees are doing or would prefer to do and the risks of each of these options.
But how do you shape a future of work that is right for your organisation, your employees and your customers? Here are our recommendations, based on our own experience of supporting clients.
Tips for shaping your future of work
1. Consult with colleagues
Different demographics have different preferences and expectations regarding their place of work. The preference of the CEO may be different from many of the workforce. Equally, the type of work done by people in the grass roots of the organisation may best lend itself to home or office working or to a hybrid of the two. It’s critical to understand what blend of work location will enable maximum productivity, wellbeing and performance.
In doing so, be mindful that people can only guess what their preferences will be in three, six or nine months’ time. As schools and nurseries establish a more reliable routine, Zoom fatigue continues, the novelty of working remotely may wear off and preferences may change.
It’s critical to understand what blend of work location will enable maximum productivity, wellbeing and performance.
If a vaccine is developed there may be a far bigger surge back to the office than expected. So make decisions, especially those regarding office space, with this in mind.
2. Understand different personas
Hybrid working patterns don’t suit everyone. In general, there’s enormous socioeconomic and racial inequality between who is able to work from home and who is not. Take care to understand the implications of your future of work choices on diverse groups of colleagues, not just age and ethnicity but also those with physical or mental health needs, carers, those early in their careers and new starters to the organisation (at any level).
If you have a head office, there will be a shifting in power dynamic that needs to be understood and proactively managed if you want to create a truly empowered, customer-centric culture.
3. Principles not rules
Moving to a fully remote or hybrid future of work relies on a culture of trust and empowerment. A set of principles, co-created with colleagues, can guide behaviour consistently across the organisation without being overly prescriptive. Here are three examples:
- Managing performance focuses on achieving outcomes not presence
- Place of work is chosen based on maximising individual wellbeing and productivity and the organisation’s requirements of the role, not line manager preference
- Activity location is determined by providing customers with the best possible experience
Your principles should be sufficient to challenge behaviour that is not in the spirit of your chosen future of work model.
Leaders and line managers are critical in role-modelling your future of work. Help them work out the specific, visible actions they will take to show they are committed to the principles.
4. Test and learn
Since lockdown began we have been thrown into a state of experimentation and this will continue for the foreseeable future – so treat this in the same way. Test out the principles in practice, monitor the impact on productivity and wellbeing, look out for unintended impacts on diversity and inclusion. Involve colleagues in reflection and learning to improve ways of working further in the next phase.
Share existing good practice across teams. We have heard multiple examples of teams adapting brilliantly to hybrid working, for example:
- Virtual office days: everyone logs onto MS Teams, Zoom or equivalent and is in each other’s company, there for spontaneous help, without the need for formal meetings
- Cook-a-thons: to welcome new starters to a team and get to know each other socially
- Mural, Slack and other collaboration tools: to problem solve and innovate
Involve colleagues in reflection and learning to improve ways of working further in the next phase.
Use this test and learn phase to establish rituals and symbols that signpost what good looks like in the new world. For example, keep board meetings virtual, everyone joining on their own device either from home or the office.
Plan in team engagement days, where the whole team commit to getting together physically, re-connecting and enjoying each other’s company. A sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, doing meaningful work for a higher purpose is a powerful motivator. It’s hard to maintain this purely through virtual connections.