Less workplace, more workspace – how we’ll be working everywhere
The country might’ve have gone back to the pubs last weekend, but the question of when it’ll go back to the workplace is yet to be fully resolved. In fact, will workplaces even continue to exist as we’ve known them? Because, in the biggest – and quickest – workplace change since the internet first appeared in the early 90s, which has seen a record 68%  of British adults having worked from home during lockdown, Covid-19 has put a very real question mark over how the workplace evolve.
While remote working might seem like the perfect compromise – after all, no sweaty commute, no office politics, and no overheads to pay – it can actually be a real minefield for everything from mental health to logistics, not to mention that all-important bottom line, and with just 15% of workers saying they’d prefer to stay at home permanently, it’s clearly falling down in some areas. So, just how do businesses strike a balance that make flexible working right for everyone, and how can external business change consultancies be used as a way to help make the transition?
THE HAPPY HOME OFFICE
First up, the positives. Commuting is such a serious stress for people that a study by Good Move revealed that over half of those surveyed admitted that commuting harmed their mental health; a staggering – and scary – admission. So, cut back on that and you’ve immediately got less stress and more free time for your employees. Beyond that, not having to play office politics can be a real relief for some, and those who would have to pay for services to keep the home ticking over in their absence, such as dog-walking or child-minding, enjoy a saving.
THE LOGISTICS OF LONELINESS
To work successfully from home, you have to be savvy about the structure, including having a dedicated work zone to improve productivity – few people break boundaries, smash glass ceilings or exceed expectations while slumped on their sofa with a laptop, and if there’s no room to Zoom, then privacy and performance can be compromised.
But aside from the logistics, you must be mindful about mental health, because it plays a really crucial role. No-one likes the office gossip, but the basic truth is that there’s something irreplaceable about the presence of people. Critical benefits of being around each other such as connection, communication and a shared purpose can really struggle to be simulated by a Skype call, and loneliness, already a social taboo, becomes a real issue with a recent survey by Finder UK showing that 30.9% of remote workers said they have struggled with this difficult emotion.
And it’s not just workers who struggle; managers, too, can struggle with this dynamic, something which Polish social psychologist Henri Tajfel explored when he researched the ‘ingroup / outgroup’ phenomenon – later to be known as ‘social identity theory,’ – whereby those who were part of a physical group were shown to view those outside it, and anything associated with them, as lesser. Transfer that concept to a workplace which has postcodes rather than partitions between its people, and you can quickly see how suspicion, hierarchy and poor communication can build into an unpleasant crescendo.
Finally, remote working cannot mitigate against unique domestic situations. Trying to work in one room with marital problems in another, sharing your space with a high-risk key-worker, or hoping for peace and quiet in a rowdy, multi-generational home will not work well. So, while it’s easy to level the playing field in the traditional office, no-one’s domestic workspace comes without its own baggage.
TIME TO GET FLEXIBLE
The first thing to understand is that contrary to pre-Covid19, when workers had a right to request, though not a right to, flexible working, the shape of business is changing so fast that its real-time definition is no longer a request sent to HR and a secure connection through IT; it’s actually a multi-disciplinary and cross-level effort that targets every single part of the business and may very well change the shape of it. So, get it right and you get the gold medal for true business flexibility. Here are some key questions to consider;
- The metric of the eight-hour day has equated to decisions about salary, seniority and competency, but without that literal gauge, do you change the way you pay people, with deliverables as a target rather than time?
- How could you standardize a business case request for remote working?
- Different departments will be focussed on different outcomes, so one-size flexibility won’t fit all; how far are you willing to bend, and what do you need to help you?
- With Covid-19 not going anywhere, existing systems that support flexible working, such as hot-desking, may no longer be viable. How could you address this?
- Can you provide psychological support to workers affected by such a shift?
- Without all your workplace in one place, how do you keep communication consistent?
FUTURE-PLANNING = FUTURE-PROOFING
Of course, your people are as much a part of the change as any, so how can they prepare, too? Well, you’re going to be creating an environment in which forward-planning and organizational skills are key, so if your workforce isn’t schooled around its ability to do just that, get ready to get uncomfortable with future-planning. The flipside of their being more flexible is that they may have to be more contactable away from the office, and that invariably results in conflicts for some as the domino effect of planning for work leads to changes in the home. The concept of being ‘out-of-office’ may cease to exist for some of your staff as the office becomes less a place and more a time, following people home and popping up at weekends.
HOW CAN BUSINESS CHANGE EXPERTS HELP?
Changing the way that your employees work in such a profound and dynamic way is more than a simple practical shift; it’s cultural, systemic and operational, so don’t underestimate what might be needed to effectively pull it off. And an external business change consultancy can be the perfect choice of partner to make a success of such a fundamental alteration. They can ensure that your IT systems can be safely and securely run in various locations, and check that your communications have blanket coverage – even if your office doesn’t. They can keep an eye on valuable metrics to ensure that your strategic aims remain in target, and they can use their own flexibility to respond to the real-time needs of the change process. But perhaps more fundamentally, a skillful and experienced external partner can be trusted to implement and embed a culture of change so that all those affected employees understand the mutual benefits of such a shift, while on a strategic level, talk to them about the projects, priorities and plans that will form a part of everybody’s future.