What are the long-term opportunities that the current situation has provided that we need to hold onto and embed in order to make working lives better?

Just when we had all turned our attention to starting to get the workforce back in to the office for at least some of the time, it does feel a little bit like we are right back where we started on March 23. Except that we are most definitely NOT back to square one – we all have a much better idea of what we need to do and how we need to do it.  We have learnt an incredible amount in terms of remote working practices, technological capability and ways to connect with our workforce. So, whilst November may seem to stretch ahead of us as a very long 4 week lock-down period there are some long-term opportunities that the current situation has given us that we perhaps need to hold onto and embed in order to make working lives better.

Here is the h2h list of some of the initiatives to rise out of the Covid-19 pandemic that we think are worth retaining and can be adopted within most organisations:

Hybrid Working

According to a recent survey by Slack.com only 12% of office workers actually want to return to the office full time whilst a whopping 72% of respondents say it is their preference to have both a mix of remote and office-based work.

It is clear that hybrid working is here to stay and will last long beyond the pandemic itself.  With social distancing measures likely to remain for the foreseeable, your organisation probably cannot accommodate everyone back on-site at one time so having a mix of flexible working options is a positive way forward which meets with the H&S need and the preferences of most workers.  Giving employees the space to explore different ways to do things, modernising the ways in which we work and having the flexibility to work around personal circumstances has seen productivity and employee engagement increase. Experts also predict that we may see an increase in gender equality at work as a direct result of more widespread flexible working patterns. Concerns about getting things done remotely have been dispelled and some more traditional managers have started to measure output not hours and entrust and empower employees to get on and do their jobs. Continuing with a mix of remote and on-site working is our number 1 recommendation – it’s a no brainer and may also have a positive economic return as well.

Re-configuration of your office space

Many organisations have offices and desk space that has been vacant for the last 6 months. Now is a good time to think about the space that you have and how you use it. As previously mentioned it’s unlikely that you will be able to have all your employees on-site at one time and, if you are to move to a hybrid working pattern, do you actually need all the space that you have? If you are in a rented facility you may be able to reduce some of your overheads and let some of the square footage go. What you really need to focus on is – what is the function of the building now that it has been proven that most aspects of office work can be done remotely? Face-to-face interaction, social connectivity and the opportunity to spontaneously bounce ideas off each other are the aspects of office life that are hard to replicate virtually. It therefore seems logical to investigate introducing a blend of Covid-safe shared desk spaces with some communal areas – hubs, meeting rooms etc that can promote the best aspects of office culture and bring about increased interaction and community engagement amongst the workforce.

Re-evaluate and re-align objectives, goals and KPI’s

If we are changing everything from our working patterns to our office buildings then it’s probably advisable to at least sense-check your objectives, goals and KPI’s. Some organisations are going one step further and looking to re-assess everything that they do right down to the design of their products, services and how they are delivered. Whilst you may not want to throw the baby out with the bath water, it is a good time to return to your core purpose and reflect/focus on what capabilities you now value that you perhaps didn’t before.

Moving from f2f to virtual has forced the function agenda and there has been a noticeable shift in what is do-able. Expectations of your workforce may have changed, and they are probably all working in considerably different ways – surely the way that performance is monitored will need to reposition to match this? You certainly do not want to cultivate a culture of presenteeism on virtual overdrive where your people feel obligated to attend every Zoom/Teams meeting listed or make a twice-weekly trip to the office, when allowed, in order to feel recognised.

When your leaders and your workforce are truly connected with the company values and model behaviours that reflect these you will quickly develop a shared sense of purpose to drive your organisation and employee engagement forward. The clear communication channels and regular, authentic wellbeing check-ins with managers alongside visible sessions with the senior leadership are definitely a few things that we need to try to hold onto.

Investment in and ownership of individual learning

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to work in a different way, virtual has come to the forefront and it has paved the way for employee led learning. Investment in individual growth is really important, whether that be through the provision of a self-led learning programmes, internal career transition support or simply by giving your team the flexibility and freedom to develop some new work-based habits.

Over the past few months we have helped organisations to provide a series of different modules where employees are free to sign up to what they want and complete it over a period of time rather than on a set date. L+D departments are empowering people to take ownership of their own learning and it has been well received by the workforce. When we are back and able to meet face-to-face this is one approach that h2h will be holding onto and incorporating into our programmes where appropriate. Core modules can be completed collectively to foster collaboration, engagement and connectivity amongst teams and combined with a personalised, specific focus on an individual’s strengths and areas for improvement. It’s the best of both worlds and can help to hone the people skills needed to manage your hybrid workers both on-site and at home.

 

Of course with every decision that you make on such a large scale, it is always prudent to assess the risks and knock-on effects across the whole business and also to ensure that you are not making changes just for changes sake.  Whilst some of us will no doubt miss the annual conferences, networking opportunities , international travel and freedom that we once enjoyed  – this is an opportune moment to transform the way that we work, hold onto the good stuff and bring about behavioural and cultural change within your organisation in a positive and supportive way.