Employees tend to fall into two groups; those for whom getting back to the office represents the return to a happy normality whilst for others it poses a daunting prospect.
The end of the office or ‘Redesigning Work’?.
When work from home guidance was lifted, the Government actively encouraged initiatives for return to pre-pandemic working. Indeed, Jacob Rees Mogg is leaving typed notes on empty Whitehall desks with the message to civil servants, “I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
However, a recent survey conducted by tech firm Citrix found that half of employees continue to work from home. Whilst many cited the time and cost of commuting as reason behind doing so, the same survey found that one in four office workers intend to return to the office this winter considering the cost-benefit of heating their homes during the cost-of-living crisis.
Employers during Lockdown required an agile response to home working in order to survive, however since many are now contemplating what comes next. Professor Lynda Gratton* of London Business School believes now is “a unique opportunity to redesign the way we work” and in a new book, ‘Redesigning Work’, she sets out her framework for business to adapt hybrid working.
Gratton opines that the combination of new skills, habits and priorities many workers developed during lockdown mean that many people have no wish to return to their pre-pandemic ways of working. In addition, she argues that spurred market forces have increased competition between businesses and in response employers will need to offer a greater variety when it comes to where and how people are expected to work.
Whilst traditionally salary attracted talent, now with the workforce communicating that flexibility -including flexible hours, sabbaticals and compressed week options- is equally a consideration – amidst a cost-of-living crisis and fuel price hikes, this is very telling. “Although money will always be important, if flexible deals are available then money won’t be the main point of differentiation.” states Gratton.
Corporations need to consider exactly how their workers spend their time whilst in the office environment. Many have expressed concern that the office-based culture of collaboration; the sharing of ideas and ‘watercooler moments’ would be affected by a more remote workforce. However, Gratton cites pre-pandemic studies tracking eye movement in open plan offices to refute the idea of spontaneous discussion and collaboration amongst co-workers. It simply did not happen as often as it was perceived to. Therefore focused, individual work can be successfully completed at home but where collaboration and group discussion are required, the office space design and configuration should be carefully considered and conducive to such, with multiple teams with varying schedules coordinated for their days in the office coincide. Time management tools and apps can facilitate this, suggests Gratton. “Just as we had to learn how to work from home, now we need to relearn how to work in the office and that will require new skills, new habits, and new technologies.”
The professor believes instead of looking at this as a period of uncertainty, she believes now is a unique opportunity to embrace change. “It provides people with the capacity to make their own choices about how, when and where they work and it is a major driver of employee motivation and engagement.” An empowered healthy work culture that produces a loyal and motivated workforce is a win win for both employee and employer.
*Lynda Gratton is a London Business School Professor and Founder of HSM Advisory. Her new book, ‘Redesigning Work’ went on sale March 2022 and is published by Penguin Business.