Our September Business Club session explored how traditional workspaces will evolve this Autumn as more businesses adapt to Covid-secure working conditions.
22 September 2020
As the schools returned in early September, and with encouragement from the Government, many organisations reviewed their premises and operations – in particular, how to re-open in a covid-secure way.
But over recent months many people have also gained a taste for remote working and a desire to not return to the lengthy commutes of old. So in our September zoom session the Business Club discussed what the ‘new’ normal for workplaces could look like. Dean Hardy and Catherine Metcalfe from Shipleys led the discussion.
A rethink of the workplace
A survey by The Times at the end of August found 75% of Britain’s biggest employers are now looking at a permanent shift to flexible working. This was in response to their staff wanting broader flexibility around remote working.
Plenty of notable companies seemed to partial to this sentiment. Schroders announced in August it was allowing thousands of its employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic. NatWest, Fujitsu, Facebook, Twitter and HSBC have also said they plan to allow much more flexible working in future.
On the downside, remote working is undoubtedly having an economic impact from a decline in footfall for those businesses that depend on trade from commuters and city workers – as well as commercial property. This impact is one the Government and organisations like the CBI has been keen to stem.
In our July session, we discussed some of the benefits of remote working. Interestingly, a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) study, found the majority of employers now believe homeworkers are either as productive as other workers, or more productive.
But in that last session, we also recognised that working alongside colleagues is also hugely valuable – particularly when it comes to knowledge sharing, quickly resolving issues and generating ideas.
Considerations for businesses
In the September discussion, the Business Club members explored 3 key considerations businesses need to take when converting the workplace to the next new normal. These were:
- The physical changes needed to the premises and workspaces in the current covid-secure climate
- How you maintain employee productivity and engagement in the new working covid secure/ remote working set up
- How to make the most of technology to ensure productivity but also security as that blend of remote and office-based working becomes entrenched in working practices.
Points raised included…
The social and learning aspects of working together
For its many benefits remote working also presents challenges to employee learning, social engagement and onboarding staff. To address this, some teams have left the likes of MS Teams sessions on all day to enable more dialogue and discussion between them as they work on projects. Others have built more short online meetings into the working week.
The discussion also raised the importance of giving people choice in whether to work from home or the office to respect individual concerns. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that employees shouldn’t feel pressurised to return to the workplace. The CIPD encourages employers to consider:
- Is returning to the workplace essential?
- Is it sufficiently safe to do so?
- Is it mutually agreed with the worker?
Indeed, many organisations are using the current time to rethink what to use their business premises for as people start to rotate between home and the workplace to enable social distancing. Some club members are seeing ‘office’ time being used solely for face to face meetings and collaboration on projects, and home working used more for online meetings and individual work.
The importance of feeling safe and encouraging dialogue
Employees need to feel safe in the workplace to be productive and engaged. As well as following the cleaning, social distancing and other Government guidelines, internal communication greatly helps here. In having open and regular communication with employees, it is important not to resort to just one channel as people’s preferences differ.
Those organisations who are encouraging dialogue and feedback (such as through surveys) are able to address employee worries and ideas that much more effectively. It is important also to recognise people are reacting to the current situation in different ways, and not to generalise by age or other criteria.
One pleasant consequence of the rise in organisations asking employees for their views and feedback has been greater transparency, openness and trust building within organisations’ cultures.
A new hybrid meeting
As some people return to the office and others remain remote working, meetings now often involve a blend of some dialling in and others being in the room. This creates its own set of challenges which organisations are having to quickly resolve.
Ensuring organisations' technology infrastructures can still cope
The appetite for the new technology people have used to facilitate home working is unlikely to diminish. Organisations’ technology systems will need to cope with the video meeting software people now favour, as more return to the workplace and log in. The traditional infrastructure may not be able to cope with the demands the new working pattern will place on it. IT specialists, Project Five kindly shared this article with the Club members – What to do before you reopen your office.
Organisations should also expect fresh clarification on Data Protection regulations from the ICO as remote working becomes a firm fixture in the new workspace.
It is unlikely that the workspace of old will return. The pandemic has forced a new way of working which has brought many positives that people are keen to retain. They also, however, want to regain the social and learning benefits being with their fellow colleagues brings. It’s likely then that the new workspace will become a hybrid that blends both home and business premises working, but with a rethink of how time ‘at the office’ is best spent.
One thing is for certain, and sadly with the prospect of a second wave of coronavirus in the UK and possible changes in Government guidelines, the workspace is set to further evolve over the next year.
If you would like to join our future Business Club events, please contact the Shipleys’ Godalming team for more information.
Specific advice should be obtained before taking action, or refraining from taking action, in relation to this summary. If you would like advice or further information, please speak to your usual Shipleys contact.
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