Work is no longer where you go, but what you do

As we found ourselves in the thick of the global pandemic last year, I wrote an article pondering on the future of our working environments and the expectations of our employees post pandemic.

Today, as we head a little closer to a post pandemic state, are my ponderings now the reality?

In short, yes. Facebook has confirmed that at least half its workforce will remain permanently remote; even hiring a Director of Remote Working to manage the employee experience of those staying at home. Salesforce declared that ‘the 9 to 5 working week is dead’, and is offering a choice of hybrid or permanent remote working. Twitter has announced an indefinite working from home policy, with employees only needing to be in the office if and when they choose to do so. Many other companies, of all size and type, have quickly followed suit – and rightly so.

The world’s biggest remote working ‘experiment’ of the last year has provided many learnings and opportunities that should be celebrated.

We have found out so much more about ourselves, our colleagues, and the impact of our working environments on our performances and behaviours. We know that remote independent working can just be as productive, if not more so, than working in physical locations. We have learned to trust in each other, and we like having the flexibility of managing our days beyond a restrictive and exhaustive commute. We’ve also connected with company culture under a new light, and during a time when we’ve needed it most.

As we look to the future, it’s the perfect time for businesses to look at the stuff that has worked and the stuff that hasn’t, how to make the most of the benefits of hybrid working and how to foster a stronger culture within that.

Innovation in the coming months to make working from anywhere an advantage (as opposed to a problem to solve) will ultimately define who will lead in this next, experimental period of hybrid working – but only when coupled with the influential power of Brand; the purpose, values, rituals that create a unique and meaningful culture and employee experience.

So, how do we successfully navigate our people through this fluid world of working from home, office, anywhere?

Firstly, establish a practical approach that works for the business. A one-size-fits-all policy won’t work. Flexible working will look very different depending on particular business models, services, and circumstances. Creating a set of guiding principles which include and balance the variety of needs – individual, team, company, client – will be far more effective in terms of execution, and far more intuitive in terms of support.

Secondly, encourage an inclusive hybrid culture through company rituals. Every element of what is enjoyed by teams in the office needs to include remote employees. Whether it’s team drinks on a Thursday evening, Monday morning team kick-offs, bi-weekly coffees with managers, monthly townhalls, or internal award ceremonies: they all need to be offered for employee participation both physically and virtually. Technology will help us do this, of course; over the past year tech has become our best friend, enabling us to remote work effectively and it’s only going to get better. Tech aside, it is paramount to always operate a ‘people first’ strategy and ensure that everyone feels present and engaged – wherever they are.

Thirdly, introduce a new internal communications plan. Consistent and thorough communication will be one of the most important and impactful practices to ensure a hybrid working model functions properly. Throughout the past year of remote working, continuous communication – whether formal company updates or just regular informal check-ins – has played a huge part in ensuring that people feel connected, listened to, supported and informed. This needs to be dialled up even more, and it can be done in a myriad of ways. This will help everyone stay aligned with the company journey, but also foster a continued sense of belonging.

Finally, we need to take the opportunity, and it is a massive opportunity, to reimagine the workspace and what form it takes across online and offline.

It’s not simply office versus home working. We’re changing gears across physical and virtual working, and so the employee experience must be seamless across either. Can we go to different offices or rooms virtually as well as physically? Can we move to a ‘flagship’ style office supported by ‘home pods’; an office hub for the brand, created purely for interaction and creativity with group areas rather than individual desks. One of the questions Landor & Fitch is exploring with clients currently is how to bring an employee experience to life right across the workspace ecosystem, rather than just at dotted locations.

If done right, the workforce will open up significantly and in turn, create a much broader pool of talent. Whether its mothers who have historically struggled to fit working around the commute and the set 9 to 5, or disabled employees who struggle with accessibility in the office, the opportunity for ‘borderless working’ is incredible.

If ‘Work’ is no longer where you go, but what you do, then surely now is the right time for employers to make a fundamental shift to a new way of working with happy and engaged people fuelled by an effective workspace – online and offline.