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Smarter Working: Considerations for Business Leaders

The Coronavirus epidemic has forced companies to operate differently under the strict lockdown measures and after almost a year operating under these unprecedented conditions, UK business has learnt to adapt and change their business models.

We believe the learnings from this period can be used to help organisations transform future business models and harness some of the benefits of increased productivity, improved communication and enhanced employee well-being experienced through working from home.

At the same time, we also need to address those things that have not worked so well, such as social interaction, feelings of isolation and some of the practical and technical issues of working remotely and using a domestic space for work.

We ran a series of workshops on the theme of ‘Smarter Working’ during the first lockdown and which involved businesses across a wide range of sectors. This process identified some key considerations for business leaders:

  • Everyone’s personal circumstances are different and that, therefore, businesses will need to adopt an employee-driven approach, rather than implementing one-size-fits-all solutions from the top down
  • Leaders need to understand individual needs and circumstances and find flexible solutions that work for different segments of the employee population to maintain an engaged and productive workforce.
  • The best ideas about effective working arrangements often come from the employees themselves. Business leaders should have the confidence to ask their colleagues what they think will work
  • Discover what colleagues have found to be the best and worst aspects of working from home: how it has impacted their mental health; patterns of work and productivity; feelings of isolation; and being disconnected from their workmates. What have been their coping mechanisms?

We  are pleased to present a series of three blogs written by Stuart Pearce, Director of Journey4, considering the future of work and taking learnings from organisations, large and small, that have lived through the first year of Coronavirus.

The blogs cover three interdependent themes around well-being and putting our people first, the recognition that the leaders need to develop new skills to thrive in the post Covid world and that engaging with your customer has never been so important;

  1. People First
  2. Adaptive Leadership
  3. Customer Engagement

Here is the first blog:

People First

Well-being is now recognised as a major factor in terms of performance and productivity. It needs to be a board room issue and requires a clear strategy. Covid-19 has raised awareness of mental well-being but has also presented us with a way forward to manage well-being and drive business improvement.

Making the opening statements at the recent ‘Future of Work’ conference hosted by Management Today and Capita, Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School Prof Cary L Cooper | The University of Manchester said, “If we have learnt nothing else during the pandemic our health and well-being of staff is important.”

Something that many of us instinctively knew, but did not necessarily act upon, has also happened; trusting our people to work effectively from home. In fact, it is more than that, it has been proven that when you allow your people the flexibility to work remotely, manage their own time, they will be more engaged and work more productively. Trust by managers in their staff is now a given.

We have gone too far to go back. We have formed new habits and adapted to smarter ways of working which will not be easily changed.

Many businesses will seek to embed changes, crystallise cost savings (office rent, travel costs, lost travel time). Employees will embrace new ways of working as it allows them to integrate home life. It will present them with wider choices of careers and roles and help to level the playing field which will encourage greater diversity in the workplace.

  • More than half of the 150 organisations recently surveyed by Microsoft said that returning to the office would undermine the benefits of home working.
  • More than 90% of organisations are planning for a hybrid model with a balance of home working and some office-based attendance which is now seen as a viable long-term option.
  • Office space needs to be reimagined and used for social interaction and team development with 48% of the organisations surveyed planning for a more collaborative workspace.

Hybrid models can help address the rising cost of ‘presenteeism’ in the UK. Presenteeism is defined when someone is present at work but unhealthy and is said to cost UK plc 4% GDP annually. Professor Cooper reports that only 2 out of 5 employees are thought to be working at peak performance, with stress, anxiety and depression contributing to sickness and absence. Delivering greater work-life balance in the workplace can help save costs and drive productivity.

This places the spotlight onto line managers. Flexible working models require managers with strong people skills. Relationships are very important and managers in the future must demonstrate greater social sensitivity and have a high emotional intelligence (EI). Traditionally these are not skills that managers possess, being promoted into management roles based on their length of service or technical capability, rather than for their people skills.

Organisations need to change their culture and demonstrate that they value their people. Harness the benefit of flexible working and learn to manage the interactions with their staff working remotely. These are new skills, but the good news is that they can be taught and trained.

In the next blog in this ‘Smarter Working’ series we will discuss how we can help managers adapt to become effective leaders in the future.