One of the biggest challenges faced by businesses as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in the UK is how to integrate employees back into the workplace. There’s both a marked appetite and tension, among people who are unsure what changes will mean to how and where they choose to work.
Whether to continue giving people the choice to work wherever they want, or perhaps to offer a hybrid solution that sees workforces split their time between their homes and the office, is a conundrum climbing the business agenda.
Pros and cons
If we take a closer look at the pros and cons, on the one hand, the pandemic has represented a welcome and disruptive change for many people who may be reluctant to give up the flexibility that working from home offers them. On the other, the office has traditionally offered a hub for social cohesion and knowledge transfer – particularly for new starters, whose professional and personal development may be stunted without access to a vibrant place of work.
Human interaction – and the natural osmosis gained from rubbing shoulders with our peers – is vital to one’s job progression. By contrast, our interactions during the Covid-19 era have become far more prescribed. Arranging back-to-back meetings when we’re in the office is now the accepted norm, while virtual conferencing has seen the social connection that should be associated with employment lost by many.
However, being able to embrace change and moving away from the patterns of working we’ve adopted over the past two years will be more challenging for some employees over others. For example, while there are some people who may be cynical as to why their bosses want them to return to the office – and are concerned that they are being strong-armed or micro-managed – the companies that are going to flourish moving forward will be those whose leaders create a welcoming and flexible working environment.
For me, as the UK government lays out plans to help “level up” our economy, the workplace will play a pivotal role in building back our communities. It’s therefore just as important that people do feel welcome in the workplace and that their ambitions and anxieties are met with the attention that they undoubtedly deserve.
“There is nothing more liberating for an employee than to know that their voice is being truly heard and their point of view is understood”
There is nothing more liberating for an employee than to know that their voice is being truly heard and their point of view is understood. Those companies that fail to put their employees’ welfare at the heart of their business strategies will quickly get found out under this “new normal” and could lead members of their teams who feel undervalued, or their opinion isn’t being heard, to look for other opportunities elsewhere.
Remember: communication is key to combatting the churn and will be paramount to the stability of your business. Creating an environment that’s infectious, and one that addresses the concerns of those who are on the fence about returning to the workplace will encourage people not only want to stay but will give them the confidence to be themselves; to build a culture that makes people feel empowered, and to optimise their time more effectively.
Furthermore, at Optimist Performance, what we’re seeing among the business community, and the companies we advise, is the need to value people’s differences. While there are positive noises coming from the business sector, of which many executives are beginning to understand the true values of employee diversity, the best organisations are going to be the ones that create workplaces that demonstrate to people ways in which they can flourish, both at a professional and psychological level.
“The hardest decision now stems from how companies look to create a culture that benefits everyone”
As we emerge from – and learn to live with Covid-19 – we must acknowledge that people will move at different speeds. This requires us to build an alternative environment to the one we’re used to and one that operates differently from the way we went about business beforehand. Long, arduous hours won’t cut it anymore. The old way isn’t the new. No doubt, money and success remain relevant to employee development. However, the hardest decision now stems from how companies look to create a culture that benefits everyone, and at the same time fosters individual desire to succeed.
There’s no room for a “one glove fits all” approach any longer. The best teams will be borne through positive workplace cultures driven by the team members themselves and steered by a CEO or managing director that understands when to step in and give guidance, but equally when to step away and allow people to pave the company’s own future.
By allowing people to feel empowered in this way, we won’t only nurture good decisions that benefit the wider team, but also inspire individuals to care for their own personal development and trust that their managers want the absolute best for their careers. While Covid-19 has shifted the dynamic of the workplace, in many ways it has also opened our eyes to the myriad ways a team can succeed, giving people the flexibility to set their own work pattern and become masters of their own career development.