‘Working 9-to-5, what a way to make a living…’, sang Dolly Parton back in 1980. Since then, many organisations have re-imagined the working day for those who traditionally sat at an office desk. At a recent HR leaders’ forum, we asked our panel about the key issues focusing their minds in the new world of work that is being re-shaped by the pandemic.
Flexible, remote and locality working
All reported that there is no wholesale rush to get back to the office and certainly little intention to return exactly as before.
Various models are in discussion to bring some shape and structure to the working week that seeks to balance remote and office working.
Some are looking at more localised working – utilising community spaces such as libraries, or partnership buildings shared with other public services in a ‘hub and spoke’ model.
All worry about the creation of a possible ‘two-tier’ workforce that separates home and office workers, so are considering how hybrid working can be inclusive working.
Property and accommodation transformation
Most organisations represented around the table have already made, or are in the process of making, key decisions. Their biggest cost after employees is real estate and all participants had this on their agenda. Most have, or are aiming to re-shape buildings and workspaces, reducing physical desk numbers while creating more flexible and collaborative spaces.
For many, this enables their organisation to reduce its overall footprint and free up space for income generating subletting or re-use. One organisation had already rationalised its estate several years ago and is operating a staff to desk ratio of 3:1 but will be taking this even further to 6:1, unlocking financial savings.
All said they are actively engaging with employees in various ways. This has revealed that many are keen to know ‘what the rules will be’. For organisations, a more flexible stance makes sense where concepts of ‘handrails’ and ‘guard rails’ (principles and guidelines) will take precedence over rigid rules or policies.
The consensus view was a need to understand individuals’ circumstances and ensure their ability to work productively and safely. Most anticipated a year of experimentation ahead, while being open with the workforce that not all solutions will work and that there are likely to be changes along the way.
Employee health and wellbeing
Echoed across the group were obvious concerns that many have struggled mentally and physically with isolation. While some have thrived outside of the office environment, many employees miss the social interaction with their colleagues, both in and out of the workplace.
Most agreed that access to good work zones, in whatever form, lends itself to better creative collaboration, team building, learning and development, which in turn reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation and provides a greater sense of belonging.
It was clear that organisations are thinking differently, holding out against implementing prescriptive rules and making sudden changes without considerable thought and consultation.
Most reported a strong desire to create cultures where there is greater freedom of choice and a defining move away from the rigidity of the traditional 9-to-5 working day. The consistent message was this is not, nor can it ever be, a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
All our HR leaders said that their organisations had already adopted some hybrid model principles and plan to continue to develop this further. The pandemic will certainly not mean the death of the office, but it may finally herald the end of the traditional, office-based 9-to-5 working day.
Jason Wheatley is a Partner at Færfield