What’s next then?

Carol-Ann White

I imagine, that if your day is anything like mine, you are sitting in your dining room, kitchen, bedroom, or garden table if you are lucky, having done 3 or 4 Teams calls back to back, and its only lunch time! Are you desperate to return to the office world of F2F meetings, random chats over the coffee machine, glass of wine in the pub before the commute home, or are you now decidedly a fan of remote working and can’t see a reason to go back to the office ever? Is the concept of a working week at the office now dead and buried in our current Covid-19 existence? What is next in a post COVID world?


GOING BACK IN

Do employers expect us to flip back from remote working to our pre-COVID lives of long commutes and long days in the office? Or do we start again with a blank sheet of paper and use this catalytic occurrence to transform our working experience and our workspace. And what does going back in actually mean? Twitter for example has just announced that their people don’t ever have to go back in and can “work from home forever’. Mark Zuckerberg is also pretty laid back about heading back to the office suggesting that in the next five or ten years half of FB’s people could be working from home all the time.


WORKSPACE

From my perspective as a Chief People Officer at LANDOR & FITCH, I think that there is always going to be a need for employers to have some form of workspace. What that space is for however, and why people physically go into the office will become very different. We are human beings and we fundamentally seek physical interaction, and yes Teams and ZOOM help with that, but they are a poor substitute to being face to face and in the moment physically with another person. I sense that office workspaces will become the center of connectivity and that those spaces will need to be reconfigured to support and facilitate social interaction and bonding for employees rather than solely as the hub of productivity. The role of the office space being “command and control” has already been broken.


PEOPLE IN THE OFFICE

Why do our people need to trek into the office, bearing in mind that the commute may be much longer whilst the requirements of social distancing remain in play? The last few months of remote working have already shown that for many categories like ours, people are able to perform their roles just as effectively, if not more so. Technology has played a key role in this, but so has an enforced attitude for employers to trust their people to get the work done in whatever flexible way of working they need to suit their own personal circumstances.


TRUST

The biggest impediment to remote working is trust. Over the course of my career, there has frequently been an underlying mistrust of those wanting to ‘work from home’ and a suggestion that they are the ‘skivers’ of the workforce. COVID has already eradicated those myths, and employers must now continue to let go and trust their people as we head into the next phase.

Never before has the individual employee’s personal circumstances been more prevalent to the working environment. Many, although willing, will not be able to go back to the office whether they are at high risk or living with high risk people, others will be caregivers who have no alternative but to work remotely and some will be simply too afraid to join the mass commute. As employers, we have to be incredibly sensitive and continue to support and trust both our remote workers and those that do eventually decide to head back into the office.


WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR A CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER?

I find it incredibly hard to imagine that we will go back to a working environment of how it was before. My hope is that we will be in a new and better combined world of both remote and physical working tailored to the individual needs of our people.

Workspace will evolve into a place of connectivity and social interaction. Offices will become a community hub rather than a command and control hub and our workspaces will reflect that. No longer will our people be in the office and at their desk to do the day to day, but for specific and impactful interactions, in all their wonderful guises, client-led or culturally led.

COVID has accelerated ways of working that were already in play, but post-COVID means the legalities of flexible working will be redefined. No longer will we have to fight the fight for flexible working with a nostalgic middle-aged Board. The onus will no longer be on the employee to justify why they should work remotely or flexible hours, but the onus will be on the employer to justify why their employees can’t!

A new willingness to embrace flexible working also opens up a whole new world of possibilities for a broader talented female workforce, as we welcome the return of those many women that had to leave the full-time crew because of the blanket requirements of a daily commute and a 9 to 6 only working day.

Our offices cultures will encompass both remote and physical working, ensuring that our people feel connected and part of the team. Friday office drinks will be both virtual and physical and be more inclusive because of it.

We rushed in to lock down, but employers really do need to get it right ‘going back in’.