So, apparently we’re not going back to the office when this is over?

Craig Lunnon

Well, at least not back to the way we lived and worked before the crisis. Most of those reading this will have seen the coverage of the recent YouGov survey showing that only 9% of those contacted wanted their lives to return to the way things had been before the Covid-19 outbreak. My immediate thoughts were ‘wow, that’s a huge swing’ and then on reflection I wondered if we should really be that surprised. 

I’m one of the lucky ones, still able to work from home, nice garden and enjoying having grown up children ‘re-patriated’ from their independent lives back to the family home. So, when the survey turns to better air quality, more wildlife, quiet local roads, a sense of community and improved social and family contact, then I definitely get it. However, I do wonder how long our good, post-Covid intentions will last when we are finally released from the forced isolation? 

We’ll come back to some of the broader themes of the environment, social unity, globalisation and supply chains and business resilience. For now, I wanted to start a broader discussion on what a return to the office might look like and even if some people may never actually return! 

Many individuals have enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and there are some obvious benefits. For some, it’s about balancing other commitments or interests with work, particularly parents with young families or older dependents. For some, its swapping a stressful, crowded commute for a skip down the stairs to the dining room to work. For others, it’s about getting away from the distractions of a busy office to focus on tasks that need that bit of ‘quiet space’. Even the more widespread use of conference calls, video calls and instant messaging solutions seems to be giving a voice to some who wouldn’t normally put their hand up in an office setting. 

However, we are all aware of some obvious and less obvious downsides to more ‘distributed’ ways of working. Even the introverts amongst us will eventually miss the company! Whilst more skilled and experienced managers will be responding to these challenges and making sure they are looking after all their people, there will be many people left to cope on their own. 

The value of formal and informal office contact on the way a business works also needs some reflection, particularly in the area of innovation.  

We can put in alternatives for workshops and in some cases the greater geographical reach of on-line solutions means we can bring in ideas from a wider range of contributors and at far lower cost. However, the mechanics of a workshop can’t be completely replicated, particularly those side conversations that annoy facilitators so much!  

Perhaps the more significant impact is on informal contact; the overheard discussion about a client, a tricky project issue or a completely unrelated discussion that triggers inspiration and gets different people working on an idea or issue. Over time, the erosion of informal relationships at work will also become more significant; we all currently know who to go to for ideas or support on a given topic and these informal networks also need to be nurtured to maintain a healthy, high performing and innovative workplace if we are planning on implementing more ‘distributed’ models.

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So, what’s the answer?  

Well it’s probably not a wholesale return to the office and it’s also probably not a full pendulum swing to everyone staying away and selling off the office space. Within our business we are giving thought to the issue using a couple of lenses.  

The first is what is right for our clients based on what they need from us, and to an extent, their ability to adopt more remote or ‘distributed’ working arrangements. We are also giving thought to how we can help our clients move towards more flexible ways of working, in part to build resilience but also to take advantage of some of the benefits this can bring. 

The second is what is right for our people - their individual circumstances and wellbeing and how we best support them to work productively, be creative and contribute to the best of their ability. 

Armed with this insight, we can then start to look at what will work best for Sysdoc as a business. The reality is probably a shift to more flexible and resilient options, better technology enablement, a greater focus on accountability and for measurement of outcomes at a business and individual level. 

What is certainly true, is that all organisations will need more people centred, and  empathic leadership and management styles to manage in the new normal, and to meet the expectations of clients, employees and the communities in which we operate. 

To join the debate, make a comment and look out for more on the topic of the ‘new normal’ and the changes in behaviour that we might want to take forward into a better world. 

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