COVID-19 accelerated digital and virtual transformation. In doing so it challenged job roles, what we valued in work and life and our working patterns. Organisations accessed new information, data and evidence to illustrate jobs could be done from home. Technology could be made secure and safe, collaboration and relationships could be facilitated by platform like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex. Some people liked it that way.
It prompted leaders to ask about the purpose, usefulness and costs of office buildings. It also raised questions about diversity, isolation, remote leadership, mental health and wellbeing and our teams ability to focus and feel a sense of belonging to a brand/ company without all the cues of logos, colours, motifs, symbols, colleagues, trophies, achievements, values statements being promoted on screens and displays around the office.
It presented opportunities for work/ life flexibility or pressure with living in the ‘multiverse’ of home-schooling, homework, home care; all without escape or mobility.
As organisations move to new work modes of homeworking, hybrid, office fixed, office flex and mobile, leaders need to be very clear on the value proposition of any work mode change and mindful of unintended consequences and the psychological responses of individual and teams as a result of this change.
This paper outlines some of the critical issues and an approach to executing new work modes.
The shift to new work modes demands careful planning, engagement and leadership to realise the value proposition of the opportunity and to mitigate the risk of the threats.
The change is profound and will have cultural, people and performance consequences.
Not everyone wants to go back to the office.
Forbes Dec 2020 report stated “As of February 2020, only 3.4% of Americans, a grand total of 4.7 million people, worked from home. Over the course of the year, that number grew to 42%. Now, another survey states that 65% would like to continue working remotely full time after the pandemic, while 31% would prefer some form of hybrid format. Most people have found that they can perform many of their tasks from home, and don’t want to go back to working like before.
Is there a generational view?
As hybrid work enables employees to work from anywhere, it tends to involve more freedom around when to work and where. It splits workloads between workers working remotely and in-office. In a recent Salesforce survey, 64% of workers want to work from outside the office and another type of workplace, as opposed to working entirely remotely. It also found that the Gen-Z workforce is more interested in the hybrid work model as 74% of Gen-Z are likely to prefer either working from home or splitting time at home and work. Conversely, 64% of the respondents like to spend some time working from an office or location outside of their homes.
BBC news reported:
Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon has rejected remote working as a “new normal” and labelled it an “aberration” instead.
Mr. Solomon said the investment bank had operated throughout 2020 with “less than 10% of our people” in the office. His eagerness for workers to return to the office is at odds with many other firms, who have suggested that working from home could become permanent. Mr. Solomon suggested that it does not suit the work culture at Goldman Sachs.
Microsoft has told staff that they will have the option of working from home permanently with manager approval.
The move mimics the US tech giant’s rivals Facebook and Twitter, which have also said remote work would be a permanent option. It follows a rapid shift away from office working prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Many companies are reconsidering how much office space they need, expecting a long-term increase in remote staff. Microsoft said some roles will continue to require an in-person presence, such as those needing access to hardware, the firm added. But many staff will also be able to work from home part-time, without needing formal approval from their managers.
Reuters in February 2021 reported:
HSBC and Lloyds are getting rid of as much as 40% of their office space as an easy way to make savings when bank profits have been crunched by the pandemic. Standard Chartered will cut a third of its space within four years, while Metro Bank said it would cut some 40% and make more use of branches.
“I think what we have learned this year is that we had a dysfunctional relationship with our workplaces,” says Bruce Daisley, a former Twitter executive and now a big-time business podcaster. “Commuting for an hour each way to sit at your desk answering emails – in hindsight that looks like an act of collective lunacy.”
Understand the difference between Laws, Rules, Guidelines and Models.
When implementing new models and developing new cultures leaders often put in place new rules. The challenge is that sometimes they treat the rules as laws. Laws are typically created to create social safety (think speed limits, protect clients, employee rights, health and safety etc). Rules are closer to the idea of guidelines, best practice, ways of working and serve to enable people and teams to be as productive as possible. Rules must be seen as more malleable and can change subject to use case and whether they help people to operate and be productive. As the hybrid working model becomes embedded leaders should ‘build in’ and be open to adoption to suit the efficiency and effectiveness demands of the team and organisation.
If organisations simply force it on people, they will simply find their own path around it. That path may include leaving your organisation and joining another.
1. Engage and Excite the team in the design
The big why? The value and benefits of the new modes need exploring to create motivation and excitement as well as to allay fears. If the value for the employees, the business and the clients are not understood or realised…well what was the point?
Discuses and survey staff for the preferences. Pressure test the suitability on home environments for working over the long terms and not just the emergency COVID-19 short term. Explore the implications of your model on the clients or customer journey and experience. Will they enjoy your model?
Invite the team to consider how they will use different work spaces to maximise effectiveness. Is there any point coming to the office to just do emails? Involve the team in identifying the necessary behaviours and required skills to make the model effective
2. Educate and Enable a successful model
Once the model is defined educate and enable. Educate the rules of the model, standard, expected behaviours. Enable leaders and team members with the necessary skills on virtual facilitation, virtual presence, collaboration, inclusion, inspiring and motivating people remotely. Ensure that everyone in the office and at home has resilient technology. The model wont work if the Wi-Fi wont work.
As well as empowering team members to design, re-design and refine working practices leaders will need to embed best practice, codify policy, systems, processes that work and suit most people, celebrate what works, institutionalise into the employee lifecycle from recruitment, onboarding, performance management, promotion, succession planning, career development. In essence make it a cultural norm. Leaders will need to role model the behaviours and skills they expect to see in others.
Role definition, ownership, support and development
Without doubt leaders and leadership is critical during change. Firstly, the business needs to help leaders with their own change response. This requires empathy, emotional intelligence and engagement and an appreciation that they may have challenges with new work modes too. New work modes demands a new role for leaders, responsibility and behaviour. Organisation need to gain buy-in to this to ensure ownership. Finally, organisations need to support leaders with the tools skills and development to operate and drive the new culture and ways of working with their teams. Critical new skills and behaviours are:
Hybrid working presents a generational and circumstantial shift in culture, leadership, fundamental use of estates, team engagement/ employee experience, technological transformation, customer experience and much more. It’s unlikely that the people leading it are experienced in such an operational change and as such the execution presents risks. These risks have consequences in not only failing to realise the benefits of the new model but damaging the employee experience and organisational brand reputation.