In the relatively distant past I can remember conversations with various leaders about flexible working policies. Debates about whether we should or shouldn’t allow people to work from home? If we agree to implement such a policy, then how often? Is one day a week sufficient? Will it allow us to remain competitive with other employers? Will the job still get done? How will we maintain culture if we don’t physically come together daily?
Fast forward a few years and one global pandemic, and where and how we work today has been utterly transformed. Indeed the pendulum has swung to the far side – we are almost all working remotely, we are getting the job done, we have navigated the changes required and found our rhythm. We have even found some benefits that we now value greatly, like the absence of long commutes, the freedom to manage our day and the ability to work around our other responsibilities, maybe as a parent or carer to a loved one.
Today I work across a portfolio of growth oriented global tech businesses, and I spend a lot of time speaking to leaders preparing for the next phase of this workplace transformation. As vaccinations continue at pace, and opening-up looms on the horizon, the future of work is front of mind for many. My overarching advice for anyone architecting what comes next for the world of work is to be intentional.
Here are a few ideas to consider based on work I have done recently with clients:
- Recognize there is no playbook for where we are now. Rather than letting that fact scare you, embrace it, see the opportunities to design something that works for you and your organisation, that will engage and motivate your workforce and allow you retain the great talent you have. Now is no time to stand on the sidelines or to simply revert to pre-pandemic norms. The pendulum has shifted and has opened up space to rethink the world of work. Embrace the space and be intentional about what you design. One client introduced a “Future of Work” taskforce from within and solicited those wishing to help design their offering. There are also lots of great external tools out there to help you identify where your company may be on the remote working continuum such as WNDYR led by Claire Haider, https://wndyr.com/virtual-office/
- Identify the needs of your workforce – do not assume you know their preferences or that their preferences match your own. Just as we think about customer personas and use cases – think about employee personas and use cases. Some employees will be excited about a return to an office life, and all that it entails. Others may want a hybrid solution, others still may not wish to return to the office or may have moved away during the pandemic making commuting impossible. Take the time to speak to and understand the needs of your workforce, surveys can be a great way of doing this. Enter into the exercise with a view that one size fits all is not going to cut it going forward. Many of my clients have surveyed employees regularly to keep on top of their sentiments about work preferences, which have shifted over time for many.
- Recognize that most employees value the freedom that working fully remotely has offered them. Overnight they were thrust into remote working environments, and they got the job done. Trust them now to help you architect how and where work gets done in the future to maximise their engagement and the organisation’s success.
- Many organisations have done an incredible job of managing duty of care for their employees through a very difficult time. With stress, anxiety and isolation at all time highs, mental health awareness and resources have made a real difference. One client introduced a mental health first aid team within their organisation, another introduced multiple mindfulness sessions weekly during work hours. Flexibility, freedom and compassion from employers has mattered. Continue to foster an environment that authentically cares for its people. Trust your people and allow them the freedom to determine what comes next for them.
- Be intentional about the tools needed to make remote working effective. Solicit feedback from your employees on what has been effective and where the gaps might be. Address gaps in technology tools or skills needed to effectively work remotely.
- Help managers with how to hire and how to give effective feedback remotely. These are key skills that will help them be more effective in a remote environment. Virtual learning environments work really well for managers to engage with and learn from a trainer and can be highly effective.
- Map out your employee lifecycle and try to identify events in that cycle you believe will be more effective, enjoyable and engaging if done in person. This could be on-boarding, performance discussions, all hands etc. Map them out and be specific with employees about why you have chosen those events if you expect them to be in person.
- Embrace the inclusive way we have all worked in the past 15 months. An inclusive environment is one in which you are free to bring your whole self to work, you don’t have to hide anything about who you are. I’ve loved seeing babies in highchairs next to a parent and I’ve met lots of children and pets on zoom calls. We have all exposed more of ourselves and been a little more authentic I would suggest about what we are juggling. Be intentional about ways to continue to be inclusive and authentic as you architect the next phase.
- Be prepared that when attracting talent you will need to demonstrate to them you have been intentional in how you have designed your workplace model. Great talent that seeks flexibility will simply go elsewhere if they don’t see authentic or inclusive models. Showcase to those outside your work practices on your website or social media – this will help candidates understand your culture and work environment and engage them early in their journey.
- Your company culture really does matter now more than ever – and can be a considerable differentiator. Reflect on how your culture responded to the pandemic – did it bend, or did it break? Engage in intentional conversations with your workforce on this, and listen to their feedback and experience. This past year I have helped several clients really understand the culture they have built, challenge themselves on whether it is the culture they want, and to codify what their special sauce is in terms of mission, vision and values. Companies that take the time to do this and live their values will be more authentic and enjoyable places of work whether in the office or remotely.
I am hopeful that debates on whether or not to allow remote working will no longer be in our future. Instead, I hope we will spend time discussing how to support remote working for those who now really want a different experience from their employer. I hope we will be creative, considerate and careful in our intentional way forward.
Since 2018 Ciara Smyth has been advising a portfolio of clients on strategic human capital matters. Her portfolio includes indigenous Irish tech firms, investor backed European growth businesses and more mature publicly listed enterprises. Ciara’s tech sector experience spans B2B, B2C, C2C marketplaces, SaaS, Fintech, Ecommerce, Gaming, Betting, EdTech and CRM.