There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2020/21 has been a slog in terms of work arrangements. The quick fixes and radical mindset shift that had to be made within a short space of time has tired even the most resilient leaders. And just as all was in place and we had gotten used to working from home and remotely, we are once again thrust into a debate about what going back to the office will look like.
Some companies have opted for a cut-off date when all staff are expected to be back in the office from 9 to 5. A sort of ‘business as usual’ approach – but there is hardly anything usual about it.
It is true that there is a general sense of ennui with respect to working from home. After a year of isolation or semi-isolation, there is an overwhelming need for human contact and camaraderie… a chat at the coffee station, a take-out on the work balcony or a face-to-face meeting. What was mundane has become something to look forward to. The question, is how long will it take for the novelty of being back in the office to wear off?
The debate on what you produce rather than how long it takes you is not a new one. I have long contended that when people are happy and stimulated at work, they will get the job done irrespective of how long it takes them to do it. They are often motivated by the end game rather than the time at work. The question here is what about teamwork, human face-to-face interaction and how equipped managers are to manage off-site teams in this way.
Many businesses have dabbled in the flexible approach during the pandemic, asking members of staff to come in twice or three times a week flexibly. In some cases, a physical presence in the office may be required, and this could be a solution, however, the pandemic has shown us that there are very few office jobs that require one’s presence full-time in an office. Much has been transferred online and worked, so there is little reason why it cannot work post-COVID.
Another possibility is working remotely from home or from a working space that is not the office, but within working hours. So basically, asking staff to be logged on from 9-5 but from wherever. Although time-bound, staff are given the option to work remotely and from wherever they wish.
The May-June edition of the Harvard Business Review recognises all four of these options as more and more leaders recognise that staff can be productive anywhere, anytime. In a full review of what is being looked at as the hybrid model, it states, ‘When thinking about jobs and tasks, consider how key productivity drivers – energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation – will be affected by changes in work arrangements.’ This perspective allows leaders a higher degree of creativity and curiosity when looking at the models they will adopt for their organisation going forward.
Simply going back to the old model of work ignores the radical shift in mindset that has occurred in members of staff over the past year, not to mention the change in expectations of staff members when it comes to managing work-life balance. What seemed impossible a year ago has proven to be very doable, and there will be a percentage of the workforce that will demand that gains made in this respect are retained.
Just imagine yourself sitting on a balcony overlooking Marsalforn bay for a second. An early morning swim and an espresso in the piazza before setting off to work accompanied by the sea breeze. A far cry from your office and desk, yet the work you are doing is the same. Grab a light salad for lunch and a short power nap, only to usher in the afternoon. If only… many would say, yet in reality, there are few reasons why this cannot be possible, and not far into the future… the future is now.
Business leaders will long be discussing the different options that work for their organisations. The options are known, yet to what extent they will work in any given scenario will very much depend on the commitment of business leaders to recognise the signs of changing times and adapt. There is no one size fits all. Each organisation will require a different set of rules, a hybrid model of sorts. What this will look like can only come from one source – the people. Those leaders that listen to the needs of their people and adapt their work practices to these needs and requirements will be the ones most likely to succeed.
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