After the storm comes the rays of sunshine (hopefully)

On 16 March 2020 the lives of many changed. On the same date the previously bustling buildings in our towns and cities suddenly became rows of empty chairs, desks, floors and so forth. The workplaces of many are reduced to kitchen worktops and sofas. The ordering of office furniture sees a sudden surge as the rush to kit out the home began. Alongside this, the liberation of the workforce began. 

It was hoped by early 2021 that the dust would have settled, but sadly not. It’s time for businesses to assess the strategy for the short, medium and longer term. Look to take the culture of the office and the modern world of technology and a desire for more flexibility in the workplace. 

  • For many this was their first experience of working from home. Putting aside the “forced” part, it allowed people to see how working from home can bring positives to work/life balance. A lack of commuting and spending more time with family had a positive impact on people. 
  • The lack of physical interaction with people did impact many. People felt a lack of belonging. An indication that time in the office or at least in a workplace other than home with colleagues has a benefit to employees. Just probably a need to balance time in the office and time elsewhere (where the home or other work locations). 
  • As an individual I recharge my own energy off social energy. Yes we have the technology to connect virtually but it isn’t really the same, it just works for certain situations. A lack of connection is an indicator of a need to return to the office for some time. The last year has also highlighted for many the lack of connectivity in their home – as our homes become more Smart we need to have improved connectivity.
  • To support home working, a business needs the tools to facilitate. This is not just about what software to use for video calls but many other parts of our working life where we need tools to effectively work remotely – something as simple as access to work emails was a challenge for many. 

Looking at 2021 and, hopefully, the return to some normality as the nation is vaccinated the question should really be what the office of the future will look like. Look at what people have loved and hated about remote working – using this data can help create productive environments that also maintain the wellbeing of the employees. 

So what benefits from working from home should we hold on to. Well there was time and money savings coupled with the ability to spend more time with family and more leisure time (through the time saving due to a lack of commuting). Yes these didn’t occur everyday but putting aside the disruption caused by school closures there was a benefit to individuals. The simple cost of my trips to the coffee shop (and impact on the waist) were quick remarkable and the savings from not driving soon added up. I used to commute all across the country each and every week – travel time was not productive, either you’re making calls (while trying to mute the sound of driving) or trying to log on to the wi-fi on the train! 

There are challenges to working from home. The ability to connect to the internet has caused many challenges. We upgraded our broadband connection to help manage the multiple devices, though with having a wife that can’t work from home it is basically me and the boys devices. You have to be strict at home. There is no doubt “home jobs” that need doing and you have to resist. I built breaks into my work day to accommodate washing, cooking and other jobs. Making up the work time flexibly. The biggest challenge is connecting with people. No more bumping into people. Pretty hard to bump into some virtually, so you have to make those connections – it means more work for us. 

Deep down I think most people want a hybrid workplace. An office-home model which allows the best of both worlds and you can also replace the office with anywhere other than home. Technology allows us to work in multiple locations. An organisation might have a central office location in a big city but this can be supported by satellite offices or the use of co-working space that is increasing across the country (though more could be needed in northern cities).

So what can we learn for our working practices from the last 9 months? We can learn about if a meeting is needed. Is there a better way to connect the team together than a weekly meeting? There are other ways – chat groups, shared documents and other digital mediums that can cut or at least reduce the time needed and free up time for more meaningful conversations. The meaningful conversations can help focus on making the team feel valued. I have enjoyed getting to know people more through getting the insight into their lives. This needs to continue and should be accompanied by recognition for the efforts of each team member. A team still needs to be together at times though. This is where the office can help – create a community where the team can come together to collaborate. Especially important for new team members – I can’t imagine joining an organisation at a time like this. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing your team – their strengths, development needs and a little bit of personal insight. And above all think about the work-life balance. Flexibility in a workplace can have such a positive impact on an individual and acknowledges that each of us are different and work in different ways. Productive ways.

Don’t forget though to maintain a balance between home and work. Ensure you take breaks. A calendar can virtually be filled quickly. Make time for you. Whether it is jumping around to Joe Wickes or taking a stroll or something less physical. Take a break and do something for you. Plan your day. Get the right balance. Setting a plan or goal for what you would like to accomplish in the day can help focus attention. 

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