Article by Cathryn Barnard – Director at Working the future
14th December 2021
By Autumn 2021, it was widely hoped that the vaccine rollout programme would have successfully put COVID-19 on the back foot and that things would have returned to normal. Sadly, this hasn’t turned out to be the case.
At time of writing, UK infection rates continue to soar. The Government has already made clear that its ‘Plan B’ includes asking people to return to working from home wherever possible, in order to protect the NHS.
Few are the organisations who’ve been able fully migrate back to the office. For the time being, hybrid working is proving to be the best solution. Across the country, people have adopted some mix of working from home and spending part of the week in the office.
But getting hybrid working right is turning out to be anything but clear cut. Simply scheduling who comes in and when overlooks the myriad other factors at play. We addressed some of these in Beyond Bricks; our hybrid working webinar.
As the 2021 ‘Great Resignation’ is proving, we’re very much at the end of employer-led labour markets. Today’s businesses need to work much harder to retain staff than previously. A lacklustre approach to hybrid working simply won’t cut the mustard with an increasingly discerning workforce.
Demand for flexible and remote working was already accelerating in the pre-COVID years, most notably among those working within the knowledge economy. When information rather than products is traded, surely where work gets done is less important than the quality of outcome created? In 2019, survey data were already indicating that millennials in particular were willing to trade higher salaries for more autonomy to choose when, where and how work could be done.
Autonomy is the keyword here.
Modern workers want to craft for themselves the supporting factors that determine world-class performance. This includes the freedom to choose where they work, when they work (within a pre-agreed 40-hour work week, of course), which colleagues will best help them deliver their work, and what workplace learning and development will best assist them with their continuously evolving roles and responsibilities.
And since the protracted period of enforced working from home has neutralised most objections to remote working once and for all, we need to have a serious rethink about the future ‘where’ of work.
Successive 2021 survey data have shown that most people still want to enjoy the benefits of an office, but on their own terms. More importantly, they want to be included in the design process.
Failure to embrace the unique needs of the pandemic-age workforce is arguably what’s now driving so many people across the UK to rethink the kind of life they want to lead, the work they want to do and the employers they want to work for.
In order to craft an optimal hybrid work blend, modern leaders need to be completely clear on what purpose the 21st Century office serves. Why do we need to convene and what aspects of our work most benefit from in-person contact? Modern workers want clarity on why returning to the office is important and they want to know their leaders have thought beyond simply insisting on a return to ‘normal’.
The nature of work is changing at such a pace that it’s no longer viable to maintain traditional working practices. The office, or some other kind of shared meeting space, will always be integral to building a sense of community. It’s this sense of community that underpins the trust that’s so key to 21st Century organisational agility. View our agile/hybrid office work zones guide
If we’re to successfully work together in climates of increased market ambiguity and uncertainty, we need to know we can rely on those around us to support us in our pursuit of shared goals. We need absolute clarity in our shared purpose – the goals we strive for and the outputs we seek to deliver.
Recent research indicates that while salary and remuneration are still important, today’s workforce are increasingly intolerant of mediocre leadership. Understanding the complexities of what motivates each team member to deliver their best work is now a commercial imperative. Failure to do so poses a significant long-term risk to business.
Understanding the importance of why people meet and optimising your workplace for social interactivity has never been more important.
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