By Alia Al-Doori, Managing Director, Pearl Comms.
With the UK’s prime minister berating the homeworking trend, even going as far as calling work-from-homers ‘lazy’, it may seem like a minefield for employers to know how to navigate this next period of office logistics. With no one-size-fits-all approach, it is crucial that businesses understand what their people want, how to make the most of them, how to boost their productivity and importantly, how to build trust when your workforce is no longer an arm’s reach away.
Understanding ‘how to hybrid’ is going to differ depending on size of team, industry and the type of work being carried out, but in principle, the concept can be used to great effect, and even drive productivity, not hamper it, for many office-based businesses.
Getting the balance right is important. How many days in the office are needed to ensure business continuity and how many days ensure your team are working to the best of their ability? Business owners have to face the fact that being productive or working hardest isn’t synonymous with days in the office or time in front of managers. Insecure managers can breed a culture that focuses on blame and finding fault, rather than focusing on achievements, outcomes and a team that is naturally invested in the success of a business, not because a manager is demanding it on a daily basis.
And, without a positive culture, what really is left.
For some, having set days in the office is helpful and ensures that the appropriate type of work is planned for the right days. For example, you could use your ‘office days’ for creative meetings, group ideas sessions, training and planning, and save the work-from-home days for tasks that require focus and solitary thinking, such as writing, finance, calls or strategic thinking. Separating the two can allow for both spaces to be used to greater effect.
Making the office a creative, fun and enjoyable environment to work from will mean that the days in the office are looked forward to and not begrudged by staff. With relationship building a top priority, office days are also the perfect time to plan in team socials and career development opportunities. It may be time to rethink huge fixed-cost office space, in favour of more agile alternatives or layouts, or seek to renegotiate leases to better reflect these new ways of working.
Business owners can then spend any surplus rent budgets on having less time in a nicer environment or reinvest it to make time spent together more valuable or seek out better training options. For those businesses which own their workspaces, never underestimate the importance of the working environment: spend on aesthetics and creature comforts if budgets allow.
With strong managers in place, there is no reason to not trust that work is being effectively carried out from home offices. Ensuring the correct processes are in place, such as time recording, outcome tracking and/or robust performance analysis, will eliminate any queries over productivity. Having these processes in place – and making sure that teams are following them – will provide protection for the business if it needs to act in the event that anyone starts abusing the flexibility afforded to them. However, with strong management in place – strong does not mean heavy-handed – there should be no problems with trust or productivity.
Clear and transparent communication around what is expected from working from home and what is not, will help to remove ambiguity for all parties and reinforce the consequences of exploiting it. This should be communicated through workplace handbooks, policies, general business updates, and also led by example from senior leadership teams too.
Ensuring that teams are communicating regularly throughout the day, even when working from home, is important not only for productivity and moving projects along – but for morale. Scheduling online, social ‘catch ups’ that are in place of the general office chatter, will help reinforce a positive workplace culture and community feel throughout the week, even while people are not physically together.
Businesses aren’t static, and ways of working are changeable too. Reviewing whether the current set up is working should be done at least half yearly, if not quarterly. Regularly surveying staff and keeping communication lines open will help business leaders to know that operational and cultural levers are working in harmony.
Despite the plethora of benefits that most employees received from working at home, the value of the office shouldn’t be underestimated. The impact in development of more junior or graduate roles is yet to be realised, but it would be remiss to assume that prolonged periods of remote worker will have harmed learning and development, in some cases. Without the daily opportunity to absorb a company’s culture, information and learnings through simply being in the same room as senior team members, a gap surely must be appearing. This is where employers must do better. Ensuring graduates, entry-level employees or even new starters have the tools and support to flourish at home and at the office will be important for building a strong employer brand, the future talent pool and also securing the longevity of the business.
With the fight for talent fierce, a combination of a clearly developed training plan, with actionable steps, overlayed with in-person touchpoints will ensure that the business is showcasing and demonstrating how important future talent is, no matter whether in the office, or not, or both.
Working from home, at least in part, is going to be in the future for many, and leaders must adapt in order to stay relevant and competitive. There has been no change in many years that has harmed businesses as much as covid, and the chance to take a positive from it should be embraced. Ensuring people can find a better balance between work and life commitments, must be one of them and finding a way to hybrid well will likely serve the business and its people, if done correctly.