As Britain continues to ease out of lockdown, many of us will be returning to the office for the first time in many months. We have spent a year working from home, juggling childcare or managing teams remotely and many organisations and business leaders are now looking afresh at the future of work and the traditional working week.
Some are promoting a hybrid version that gives ownership of achieving productivity to their employees. Nationwide says its “work anywhere” plan gives employees more control of their lives, allowing them to work from home, head office or even in a local high street branch if it is nearer to where they live. While BP has announced a flexible two days a week remote working policy. Others, like JP Morgan, are encouraging a different approach, allowing its 19,000 UK staff back to the office and asking heads of business divisions to decide if they wish to inform their team that they can return.
There have been so many changes to the way we live and work over the past year that, for some, it has shifted their professional and personal priorities. A client who runs a property agency in retail and leisure is determined it will emerge stronger, with a committed happy workforce that will be more productive by working smart. Decisions on in-person presence are now driven by roles and key meetings. One non-client-facing team member has been able to move to the country, coming into the office for team and key meetings two days a week. My client herself has recognised that this flexible new approach is allowing her to accelerate her own family’s plan to buy a livestock farm from a mid-term ambition to a reality in 2021.
A client who runs a property agency in retail and leisure is determined it will emerge stronger, with a committed happy workforce that will be more productive by working smart
Flexibility and agility have also been essential qualities as market conditions kept changing.
Clients will value those advisers who innovate and adapt, like the CEO of a property development company who turned his business around after a tough year when land deals fell through. A residential site that fell through early in the pandemic was remarketed as a logistics site one year later and went to best bids, achieving in excess of the original site value.
Today is an opportunity for all companies to reset and address the new realities amplified by the pandemic so they can emerge stronger.
Here are seven insights to consider when planning what your new way of working will look like.
1. Take your time
With so many variables still at play, avoid feeling pressured to make big decisions too quickly. The pandemic is not yet over, so it is important to keep your options open. The decisions taken over the coming months will help shape the future of the way people work, the way they connect with each other and with the company. It is essential to take them carefully.
I liked the drivers that Jane Fraser, CEO of CitiBank, provided to support their return-to-work initiative: Belonging, Collaboration, Apprenticeship & Learning and Competitiveness & Performance.
What are your priorities and what are the key activities that will enable you, your team and your business to flourish?
2. Uphold your culture
A company’s culture has never been more exposed than now. Management teams often say that ‘People are our most important asset’ and how they have supported people during this time will have created a bigger loyalty or a bigger divide. One client feels that the leadership of the global property company she works for has been ‘world class’. She has huge pride in working for them and acknowledges that their constant communication and compassion will not be forgotten.
What are people saying about your leadership and culture?
3. Develop your younger talent
Many leaders have shared how much their younger workers have missed being with their teams and cannot wait to get back. Not only do they miss socialising and collaborating, but their development has been impacted. For some, their entire work experience has been virtual. Watching a skilled colleague negotiate a complex transaction or experiencing their manager’s palpable presence and influence at a physical pitch cannot be replicated on Zoom, so development plans will be key.
4. Respect different reactions
It is natural for people to respond differently on their experiences of the pandemic. Many have suffered loss and will feel differently about what ‘safety’ looks like. One client asked for agents to take people’s temperatures as they walked into a property, and it is important to listen and explore how your teams feel so you can give them the assurances they need.
5. Reflect on your personal growth
A leader in the finance industry recognised that the pandemic has brought out the best in him. During the first lockdown when everything was new, he recognised how much he trusted his team and knew that they would work hard from home. He also realised that showing how much he cared about their wellbeing – keeping morale high through a light touch and humour as he broke down the bad news everyone was absorbing – has made him a better leader.
He is utterly exhausted as are all the managers I speak with, but he has valued this crisis to grow.
6. Value new insights
During the pandemic we have all been invited into our colleagues’ and sometimes our clients’ lives, getting a glimpse of their homes and their families and getting to know them better. A manager of a residential agency asked his team for their business and personal goals at the start of each week and whether they had achieved them at the end. He discovered how sporty his team were setting regular goals to improve their health and fitness.
These insights forge links and help understand what fires people up or triggers them. They may also reveal vulnerabilities. They are significant, human conversations that most of us were too busy to have at the office, so try to hold onto them when you go back.
7. Reset, pause and learn
Once people return to the office, it will be natural to dive into work and the changes that unfold, whatever they may be. But it is important and timely to reset, pause and acknowledge what you and your team have learned from this period. What did we value? What will we miss? How has it made us better? What will we retain or change?
Slow down to move forward and don’t miss this opportunity because hopefully it won’t come about again.