Return to office time – don’t ‘sleepwalk’ into the wrong solution

There are lots of companies selling solutions to improve the effectiveness of home working – that fact on its own is ringing alarm bells to many business leaders and making them ask some fundamental questions.

Is working from home always such a good thing? A quick look at some of the arguments suggest that for both businesses and their employees, it’s not as simple as you think and the new economy will support office, home and blended environments. But ‘which arrangement is right for me and my business’ is a question you should be asking.

For the employee, I’ve heard quoted “If you can work fulltime from home, your job can be done anywhere.” Whilst often not actually true, it’s certainly worth thinking about. It was recently said that 200,000 jobs had moved overseas from the UK during Covid and research suggests this may be just the tip of the iceberg (Bloomberg June 2021)

Add to this the impact on your personal development (or that of your employees). Learning does not end when you leave school. It continues when you join your first company and start learning from them. If experience and learning aren’t valuable then why do employers pay for it?  In reality, these are prized personal, corporate and business assets that need developing and for the employee, is how careers are developed. 

For the business leader, think about innovation, creativity and trust. It takes a very digitally savvy organisation to say all of these are just as effectively developed and delivered through purely remote means. When trust exists, it can be leveraged remotely – but that needs to be developed to work at its best and new teams shape and bond quicker when everyone’s senses can be fully engaged.

What about onboarding and speed to competency? These can be supported with good tools, albeit often taking longer, but what about the speed to good and great? This is what differentiates a truly successful business. How are you delivering that?

So, in resolving what’s right for you here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s going to be right for me and my business in the long-term? Don’t think “Covid” is the key driver, that’s a temporary hinderance you work around. What delivers the most effective long-term solution?
  • Does my tech meet my needs? Don’t forget home-based data speeds vary a lot. Checking things work in the office doesn’t mean they’ll work everywhere else, and working to centrally maintained files can seriously reduce productivity.
  • Is my team stable and secure or am I going to be onboarding new members? If so, how do I get the culture and messages I need to them?
  • Innovation, creativity, problem solving, trust and fun. How do I drive these? Critical features in successful young businesses in particular.
  • My customers and clients – how will this work for them and how will I win new customers in my industry? You’ll need the ability to match and mirror their behavior for your key clients and prospects at least.

So, what’s the right solution for me?

What work are we doing, where are we in our lifecycle and what’s my planning horizon? These will have defined some of your answers to the questions above.

Get the right people in your office together at the right time – this means putting a clear structure and rules in place for all – not driven by Covid, remember that’s an overlay not your core driver – created around a plan. How will your business be working when Covid has gone? What’s the best model of your business and employees’ future needs?

Competing for people in the marketplace – don’t be fooled that we all have to offer full-time or, indeed, any working from home. Do you want the person in your team who doesn’t want face-to-face engagement with their colleagues?  Probably only if you really need them and potentially not permanently. Flipping that on its head - if your future model is for at least partial remote working – and for most businesses it will be either internally, with clients, suppliers or prospects – are you building a team that includes people who are really good at that engagement? Does your recruitment process include at least some digital elements – video, voice and remote leadership?

There are many upsides to more flexible working arrangements - access to larger candidate pools; the need to embrace technology; engagement with more potential prospects; reduced office costs; lower staff fatigue and many more. But with physical presence some things will develop quicker: trust, learning, culture and other things may work better, especially innovation, collaboration and a sense of purpose.

Be clear, structured and open about the rules of engagement. Make sure teams spend their time together in the office collaborating and engaging, not just doing tasks. If it’s right for you, be unashamedly fully office-based and, if the opposite is true, then make sure you’re still looking after, retaining and developing the future of your business – your people.

There is a single most important thing – HAVE A PLAN – too many businesses are sleepwalking into a very different future driven purely by personal employee preferences. Don’t let it be yours.