As lockdown approached in March last year I wrote a guide to working well from home, distilling the lessons I’ve learnt over the past 14 years from running a business from my London flat.
In the months after its publication, the professional and financial services industries discovered the productivity of home working – causing me to almost dislocate my eyes from rolling them so hard!
Initially many workers delighted in the hours saved from not commuting, spending more time with their families at meal times and many more hours in their own homes. But as the months wore on many noticed how hard it is maintain a routine with little external input. Others grew bored of video calls and felt like life had been reduced to working, chores and sleeping.
But now lockdown is easing, it’s time to examine how the world of work will adapt. Will we create a better working environment as I outlined in this post? With no-one wanting to return to five days in the office and everyone wanting more social contact than they had during the pandemic, a new hybrid way of working needs to emerge.
Conversation with contacts has revealed four new trends and challenges professional service personnel should expect from the post-pandemic professional service workplace.
Long live the video call
Many employers discovered a hidden benefit to video calls. Not only did it make it possible to keep businesses running during lockdown but it democratised the process. With everyone on a call it was easier for more a diverse range of voices to make their views heard. When some are gathered in a meeting room and others linked by video, the views of those in room tend be favoured while attending by video tend to be ignored. Employees should expect large meetings to still be conducted by video and smaller meetings to be in person.
Out of office
The persistence of the video conferencing means the structure of the working day will depend on whether people are in the office or at home. There is little point in coming into work just to sit on a Zoom call – the diary needs to be kept free for scheduled and impromptu face-to-face meetings. When in the office, it will be less easy to access employees by email and messaging so an out-of-office message promising to respond when an employee is back at home may be necessary…!
Getting the rota right
Ensuring the right people will be in the office at the same time will be a significant logistical challenge. Some employers might say to staff they should come in three days a week but can choose what days to come in. They will try to incentivise people to come in on a Monday and Friday by providing free food because otherwise everyone will choose to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Others will provide rotas to ensure everyone will meet all necessary contacts across a two month period. This will be not only a logistical nightmare but might also be perceived as rowing back on the empowerment provided by home working. There is no easy way to maximise social contact when people are only in the office a few days a week.
The management challenge
The hybrid workplace will make it hard to evaluate performance, enable mentoring and make sure staff feel connected to leaders and team members. It will important to ensure staff are as well coached and supported when they are at home as when they are in the office. Otherwise there is danger that those who can travel more frequently into the office will be given preferential treatment. Establishing the right hybrid working culture needs to start with the chief executive to ensure everyone has the same split between office and home.