How to build your future of work

How to build your future of work

After a prolonged period of enforced remote working, organisations are relooking at where their employees need to be going forward.

  • 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 (see the end of this article for a summary).

So what to do? 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.

5 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, days get shorter and colder and Zoom fatigue sets in, the novelty of working remotely may wear off, and preferences may change. 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 won’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 on 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

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.

Get in touch

To discuss your cultural or performance challenges and discover new ways to get the best out of your people in unusual and uncertain circumstances, call us on 01208 824 508 or at [email protected]

Summary of research

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.

  • Morgan Stanley found that only 34% of UK workers who could go back to the office have actually done so, and many businesses have publicly stated that they will extend the option to WFH indefinitely such as Facebook and Twitter – Link
  • Hays found that over half (59%) of organisations say staff are already returning to work in the office, with more employers in the North East (72%) and the North West (68%) saying staff are returning compared to just 44% in Greater London. However, only 3% of employers expect their workforce to be fully remote in 6 months’ time. Link
  • Adecco Group UK and Ireland, found 77% of employees would prefer hybrid working. Link

It is tempting to jump on the remote-working bandwagon and assume this is the progressive choice. But is it right for your organisation? There are warning signs that moving to a purely remote model. A recent article in The Guardian 

flags some of the challenges with pure remote working. This and our own client research flagged these as the top challenges of remote working

  • Screen fatigue
  • Blurring boundaries between work and home
  • Having a suitable environment to work from home
  • Feel they have to ‘prove’ their productivity so work overly long hours
  • Missing incidental exercise and fresh air
  • No opportunity for informal relationship building

Even before the pandemic, remote workers reported comparatively high stress levels, according to a 2017 UN report (41% of remote workers compared with 25% of office workers).

A hybrid model is a popular choice, but again there are challenges here. The Adecco Group’s research found employees are worried that employer’s expectations of what hybrid-working should look like would not match their own.

The difficulty with hybrid working is it can mean different things to different people. As with all organisational culture, the ‘written rules’ maybe that colleagues can work flexibly, any time, any place. But the ‘unwritten rules’ maybe that if you want to climb the ladder you need to show your face in the office.

CIPD research raises some of the challenges with hybrid working. Leaders need mature capability to build high-performing teams in a hybrid environment. As well as biases in the culture, adapting to a wide range of individual preferences, different challenges of wellbeing and mental health, and diversity and inclusion and a plethora of home-life circumstances.

Organisational design researcher Minervini agrees, saying: “You run the risk of creating in-group and out-group dynamics in hybrid teams.” In other words, a mixed model can entrench a divide between those in the office and those at home (and potentially magnify the gender gap, as women are disproportionately expected to take on home-based caring responsibilities). “And there’s consistent evidence to show that in-group and out-group dynamics reduce collaboration and increase conflict.”

The pandemic has drawn attention to disparities among those allowed to work remotely, including the spotty quality of internet access; the demands of parenting and caring; and the luxury of roomy homes and outdoor space that make working from home comfortable. Those squashed into overcrowded flats may not relish having to work from home for the bulk of the week.

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