The pandemic has had a major impact on how and where people work. Thanks especially to online services, remote working has proved not only possible but productive. However, although productivity may not have suffered, it is almost inevitable that other facets of work – such as culture and camaraderie – have been weakened. It might be perfectly feasible to process paperwork sitting at a computer at home, but giving and getting feedback, learning from and socially interacting with colleagues is another matter entirely. These all benefit from colleagues being in proximity to one another, but persuading people to return to the office is proving quite a challenge for many businesses, who are even losing employees unwilling to go back to their old work routines.
Having coped with lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions, many feel emboldened to consider whether they might make other lifestyle changes off their own bat, especially around the way they work. Their priorities may have changed so that they want to maintain the extra time they have had with their families, avoid the hassle of the daily commute, or change their working lives in a host of other ways. After all, work – in large part – has been done successfully with people working remotely, so why shouldn’t it continue that way?
Employers should recognise these feelings and work with them rather than look to impose their wills and risk losing their staff to more accommodating employers. After all, does it even make good business sense for us to return to the pre-pandemic ways of working? The idea of everyone working standard hours at the same location came about many years ago. Over the past quarter-century, the internet has changed the way business takes place, but – until the pandemic – where and when we worked hadn’t changed much at all. For all the pain and anguish the pandemic has brought, it has also given us the opportunity to step back and evaluate how we live our working lives. Now people can work remotely and hold meetings online, it makes sense to factor those abilities into the way people work overall.
Where does this leave the office?
This doesn’t mean the office as a place to work is redundant – far from it. One of the reasons why humans as a species are so successful is that we work together to achieve more than we ever could working individually. And a second reason is that we are by nature a social species, and we form bonds and ties of loyalty, which foster a collective team endeavour. Getting together in person and bouncing ideas around is far more fluid and productive than in an online meeting, and also cultivates or maintains strong relationships. And the knowledge and skills people gain while working together enhances the rewards they derive from their jobs. If they look forward to coming into the office to achieve specific outcomes, and to leverage the many advantages of working alongside one another, it will add meaning to their working lives; how much more motivating to travel to an office with some specific activities or interactions lined up, rather than just because it’s what happens every day!
A culture of collaboration
The reasons why people choose to work for their employers are complex – very often the rate of pay is less important than how much enjoyment they get from their work, and this is driven very much by a company’s culture. Companies whose cultures encourage teamwork and collaboration will have an advantage in drawing people back into the office, when the needs of the work in hand demand it. It will ring false, though, if they speak collaborative words but then fail to engage genuinely with their employees to explore patterns of working that best fit with the needs of the business and with the needs of staff. Listening to and acting on what staff say is vital. As well as direct conversations, surveys can be a great way of exploring a workforce’s attitudes, but only if they lead to feedback and action. They are counter-productive if they are perceived as being done just to tick a box.
Plan to engage
Staff who feel disengaged from their company and teammates are much more likely to consider moving to a job elsewhere. It is critical, therefore, to actively plan ways of engaging staff in regular activities that involve interaction with their colleagues, and foster that team cohesion that is so necessary. It has taken a while but, driven by the demands of investors, customers and workforces, companies are now starting to describe their cultures less in terms of what they do as to why they do it. When the ‘why’ is at the root of a company’s culture, it makes for very different cultural values, and gives meaning and a sense of purpose for its staff. If they know why they are doing the work they do, and have a say in how it is done, they are far more likely to remain loyal.
Woodhouse’s next webinar is all about how to create a culture that attracts staff back into the workspace, rather than forcing them.
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