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 platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and 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.
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.
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 Feb 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.”
Senior Leaders should not take for granted that everyone in the organisation wants to go back to the office or stay at home. To decide based on roles is naive. Each person’s home situation is different, their social needs are different, so whilst the tasks of their job ‘can’ be done at home it is possible that circumstances and preferences mean it can’t or that performance and productivity would be sub-optimal. Leaders will need to consult and engage with staff to understand individual situations and preferences as well as the functionality of the role. What we know about change and change management means that ‘engagement’ doesn’t mean ‘communication’ . It means involvement in the design process, listening and being heard as well as creating the best fit solution.
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?
The new work modes will require very different leadership responsibilities and skills. We cannot lead in the same informal, walk the corridors (walkabouts cannot be replaced by zoomabouts!), micro/ progress managing kind of way. Leaders will need educating on their new responsibilities, values and skills required. Leaders cannot give what they do not have. Crucially leaders will need ‘enablement’ or development to shift their own mindsets and own behaviours.
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.
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:
Developing purposeful goals – to provide focus, motivation and empowerment in the new work mode
Developing inclusive, diverse and connected teams – to ensure belonging and contribution
Developing and instilling a growth mindset in self and others
Create powerful team identities across different work modes
EQ and Leadership Care – at the point of change we need to make people feel they are cared for, belong here, are valued.
Wellbeing and resilience – managing physical and mental health strategies to cope with change and new ways of working
High Performing Teams – continuous improvement, standards, excellence and stretch goals
New work modes present a generational and seismic shift in culture, leadership, fundamental use of estates, team engagement, technological transformation, customer experience and much more. As it is seismic 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 ne model but damaging the employee experience and organisational brand reputation.
Careful consideration must be given to the philosophy, strategic narrative of the change, the engagement of the strategy with those primarily responsible to delivering it and how the change will play out for each individual. 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.
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