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Back to Life Back to Reality?

A panel of four Chief People Officers from Fidelity International, Quilter Plc, GSN Games and Unispace, discussed and shared their approach to the return to the office and the new ways of working. These are emerging as lockdown ends and there is a lesser use of remote working models.  In general there seems to be a very wide range of approaches from companies. Some high profile firms are calling for a full return to the office, others to various hybrid models to embrace remote working and significantly reduce real estate costs.

Panellists Sally Nelson, Paul Hucknall, Peter Walmsley and Nicola Harris from three very different sectors, all international businesses  – each had unique challenges for their particular business but also shared similarities.

The key themes in common:

  • A principles rather than rules based approach is important – with a focus on each role and each teams needs
  • Flexibility and ability to experiment, try things and be open to adapt to future changes in the world
  • Surveys of employees continued to support flexibility around working from home and the office (80% to 90% range)
  • There were regional, generational and personal differences on desire for remote working vs attending the office
  • The importance of senior leadership setting the tone – if the leadership attend the office every day – the message to employees would be clear, whatever the stated policy or approach of the organisation

Specific insights

Sally Nelson mentioned that Fidelity International has developed their own proprietary app for managing office use, knowing who was in the office on any given day and other functionality.  She talked of three principles that Fidelity International employed in their model of ‘dynamic working’.

  1. We will offer the maximum amount of flexibility of home and office working considering the role you are doing.
  2. We will measure employees performance based on what employees deliver and contribute not just on when they work their contractual hours
  3. We will trust everyone will make sensible choices around how they work and be available to collaborate with colleagues.

Peter Walmsley said that GSN games undertook weekly risk assessment through lockdowns and that was used to make decisions on whether offices were open in the US, UK, Spain, Israel, Ukraine and India at different times over the last 16 months.  Peter mentioned that 40% of colleagues in India had returned home locations across the country to help their families but were continuing to work remotely and were unlikely to return to the office any time soon.  He also pointed out that they had now hired people in places where they didn’t have an office, they had people who had moved out of cities some distance and would not want a daily commute and others who could not wait to get back into the office – ‘some would do 8 days a week if they could!’ –  so the challenge for GSN games is that they needed to find a solution that blended these different people into the business.  He was seeing no gender issues specifically (not in the attrition data) but did see employees in long term relationships with a partner who is also working trying to find solutions from their respective organisations to enable them to manage their family circumstances effectively.  Going forward this was likely to be an important factor in attracting talent – being flexible enough to meet people’s needs back in the domestic environment.

Nicola Harris at Unispace, shared insights on the evolution of the office from the early part of the 20th century to the present day (driven by space, driven by technology, driven by disruption and now – driven by people).  Her organisation had developed propeller workplaces where the office exhibits a different form and functions from the traditional desk based workstations that have dominated many office environments.   She pointed out that there were multiple places to work from home, on the move, a coffee shop, third party co-working spaces, the clients office or the organisations office.  Different work suited different environments.  She mentioned that she had not had a formal desk arrangement in an HR department in 20 years and preferred to work with her internal clients.  Her desk was her bag!

Paul Hucknall explained how managers at Quilter Plc were given support in engaging in conversations with the teams about the best way of working for the team.  They have been investing in leadership programmes to give added skills to their managers at all levels.  Interestingly five hundred of the four and a half thousand employees at Quilter were already on ‘home working contracts’ before the pandemic and so they already had experience at remote working.  He drew a distinction between flexible working for individuals and hybrid working for teams where people would have different individual circumstances and contractual arrangements with people working remotely, in the office or some combination finding effective ways of working together and delivering their results.

Leadenhall would like to thank them for taking part and giving so freely of their time and their experience.

Leadenhall have developed a program to address some of the issues here and to provide some of the solutions mentioned.

Click Team Re-Vitalise – Leadenhall’s Return To Work Coaching Programme for more information