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‘It’s not a return to work, it’s a return to the office’
Work continued through waves of the pandemic as Covid19 washed around the globe, leading cities and countries to implement lockdowns as governments tried to protect their populations. For many people, work continued outside of the home, at hospitals, on construction sites, at essential shops and transporting goods. Others were furloughed or laid off. Others worked from home.
The cornerstone of white-collar workers around the world, has been quiet. In the UK some firms began a tentative return to the office last summer, after the first lockdown only for the second wave and further lockdowns to lead to a retreat. Earlier this year our associates in Sydney were explaining that the return to the office had started in earnest but this month Sydney has returned to lockdown just as the UK is looking at the ending of most restrictions. Many US cities, New York for example, are back up and running. It does look as though the return to work is beginning, but we can assume that timing will vary around the world.
The big themes of remote, hybrid and office-based working are being considered by organisations and, as described by our panel of Chief People Officers, hybrid working is being explored by many firms as we emerge from the pandemic.
What key issues need to be addressed?
Teams and individuals in multiple locations e.g., home, office, café, train, business centre has added to the complexity of work. How do you hold meetings mixing in-person and virtual? Each person, manager and team will need to find the right solution for themselves, the client, other stakeholders, and the business. Fidelity International calls it Dynamic Working.
Some firms found that productivity and efficiency increased during lockdown as people worked from home. Some firm’s services declined (long wait times on customer service lines explaining that due to Covid, services would be slower, although of course, our call was important to them). This may be the time to review processes, workflows and to explore new technology and ways of working to improve performance and yes, build back better.
There is a great opportunity to progress in this area, by finding working patterns, enabling people to deliver their work in different ways. Whether it be parents, carers, those with disabilities or the many other elements people need to balance with work. There is also a possibility of regression to management and measurement by attendance in the office and ‘visibility’.
Good leadership and management has always involved supporting and empowering team members. It will be difficult for the command-and-control style to be effective in this virtual and more ambiguous world. How do leaders maximise the efficiency of their teams (see all above), while remaining inclusive and fair in their allocation of work, measuring performance and allocating rewards? Creating strong teams by consciously building in collaboration and time together will be important. Certainly, output not input will be the most important measure.
All the uncertainty, the shifting boundaries between work and home, the severing of social bonds, additional responsibilities for parents around schooling, boredom, focus on domestic relationships and reduction in social interaction have all impacted people’s mental health during the pandemic. Hybrid working is an opportunity to find the balance that is healthiest for people within the context of the business needs. One size does not fit all.
It would seem most clients are focusing on the team. This inevitably means the team leader needs to work with their teams to work out how the themes outlined above work for their team in the context of their organisation. There will be difficult issues to resolve, potentially conflicts of interest, practical difficulties, and sensitivities. The prize is to create a more effective team, to do this quickly and effectively and move forward into the post pandemic environment confidently. Coaching works incredibly well at times like this, crystallising thoughts in the face of ambiguity, resolving difficult issues and challenging traditional ways of doing things.
The Team Re-Vitalise Coaching proposition supports leaders and teams who would appreciate facilitation, coaching and support and they find the right solution for their team.
The recording and report of our recent webinar Back to Life Back to Reality? – can be found HERE if you would like to hear more about the issues raised.
If you would like to have chat about Team Re-Vitalise – please do contact us for a chat.