The start of the pandemic saw many businesses congratulating themselves on the pivotal achievement of relocating the majority of their office-based staff to home working. However, eighteen months on, the realities of getting employees back into the office is proving to be more challenging than locking down.
Divergent camps have materialised between bosses; some of whom see working from home as being an aberration, which conspires against the benefits of in-person collaboration and the innovative energy of physical colleague interaction. While advocating for a full return, other business leaders favour a more flexible hybrid model, which balances working between the home and the office. In contrast, according to the Office of National Statistics, 36 percent of employees want to stay at home permanently and in a BBC commissioned YouGov survey, published on 16 September, 70 percent of general public individuals polled predicted that workers would ‘never return to offices at the same rate’. No doubt many individuals are propelled by a belief in the greater productivity of working from the kitchen table or spare bedroom, a better work-life balance, and the spectre of returning to expensive, lengthy, and possibly risky, commutes.
But other workers will be desperate to get back to the office; not least those of a younger generation. Working in a cramped flat-share environment for over a year and a half is a hard gig. A situation that has been exacerbated by the deprivation of office based soft-skills learning, mentoring, social interaction, and a reduced ability to catch the selector’s eye when it comes to promotion. These factors are compounded if a new employee has never set foot in the office or physically met their colleagues and management of the company they have joined.
The complexity of the issue is aggravated by ethical and legal issues. Variation in vaccine compliance between global jurisdictions, health and safety, mental health, and discrimination considerations, all herald risk. As do meeting employee expectations and retaining them if competitors offer more appealing workforce policies. And, of course the Coronavirus, as the continuum of uncertainty in all of this, gets a vote too.
As a business leader, whichever position you take, whether it’s allowing your employees to stay remoted, insisting on a hard return to work, or something in the middle, the debate is missing a critical element. If optimal working was challenging before this Covid-19, it’s got a lot more complex and one of the enduring lessons of this perennial crisis is that the actual way we work, rather than just where we work is key.
Productivity, high team performance, resilience, and well-being are not just factors of an ability to work in the same physical space. A critical aspect is also whether employees have a sense of purpose, clarity regarding their role, and feel that they are empowered to deliver against it in a manner that aligns with a company mission that they have faith in. The issue also extends beyond offering fringe benefits to entice people back into the workspace or compelling employees to return to work.
Regardless of location policy, developing new ways in which employees are expected and equipped to work, whether they are back in the office, staying at home or split between the two throughout the working week, is essential. Achieving this requires a real shift in the ethos of how firms work. Extending beyond lofty word statements, culture change has to be grounded in creating a structured discipline of better working behaviours, which requires the following six things:
Regardless of whether colleagues are facing each other across a table or a Zoom screen, firms with these six principles in place will generate the mutual trust required between bosses and their people. Teams will be more motivated, industrious, and creative, while their leaders will be less focused on where their people work. Whether in the kitchen or office, or moving between them, their people will enjoy a greater well-being that comes with having a sense of purpose. Additionally, their companies will be more resilient for whatever Covid-19, or another grey rhino or black swan, throws at us next.
Matero Consulting has designed a proven new way of working methodology called MECCAR, which leverages military experience of purpose, empowerment, and agile decision-making for the benefit of business change and turnaround agendas. Using a framework adapted from combat and applied to commerce, MECCAR empowers teams with purpose based on a flexible framework of process, tools, and skills, which delegate authority, bring clarity in ambiguity, resilience for change and disruption when pace, precision, and the ability to thrive in uncertainty and pivot faster than the competition is key.
Mission Purpose, Empowerment, Communication, Collaboration, Agility and Right Behaviours (codified culture and leadership).