What have we learnt about working from home? The Australian fantasy – working at the beach – may now, for many, be a reality! Being abruptly disrupted out of the 9-5, five days a week routine will probably throw up unexpected changes, longer-term.
A CBRE survey (https://bit.ly/3kLVFOU) of 10,000 people in 32 companies across 18 countries, including Australia found:
– 85% preferred working-from-home at least two to three days a week.
– More than 90% said that they think working-from-home is “about the same” or more productive.
– The top benefits of the office are team connections, collaboration, and access to services: IT, meeting spaces, etc.
COVID has changed the way we work forever. Some of us enjoy working from home, some crave a full-time return to the office. Well, a global survey of 10,000 office workers found 85% would prefer to work remotely a few days a week. Peter Wilkinson, this presents an enormous challenge for bosses everywhere. I’m sure many are scratching their heads wondering what’s the solution?
Yeah, so we’re facing a classic disrupted situation on the understanding that we’re not going to go back to the old ways. By the way, I used to believe that after COVID was over, we’d all got back to the office in the traditional way because we’ve been doing it for 150 years. We’ve got pretty good ways of working in an office culture, but I now believe certainly for people in our area, so professional services, lawyers, accountants, we won’t go back to what we’re used to. The way I look at it is I structure it in terms of what is the aim of the group, and then drop it down into objectives. For each stakeholder, I look at an objective. The aim of the group might be to be highly productive but it also might be to finish a particular project in record time.
You need to be very clear on what the aim is, but then you can drop down to each stakeholder and look at an objective. It might be to make sure that we’re productive, to make sure that we’ve got a strong culture despite the fact that we’re not together all the time, to make sure that each individual is productive and feels productive, to make sure that each individual’s mental health is where it should be. Then maybe to make sure that families are working properly in this new environment where everybody’s at home with two parents working, and kids and dogs and cats and chaos. That’s the way I’d structure it, and in each one of those, you can get strategic and tactical.
That’s the next step, is tactics. How do we actually achieve our objectives to fulfil our aim? People talk about productivity and mental health. They’re all buzzwords particularly at the moment, but how do we actually go about in achieving those objectives?
It is really irritating, the use of buzzwords and I’m guilty as accused. The first thing is to remember in productivity, we are only as good as our people. Excuse me, another buzz phrase, but people are everything. The second is that people want to know why they are doing things. When you’re remote, it’s much harder to understand the mission and the purpose behind what the company is doing. People always look to their boss, not only to hear what they say to get guidance but to respond to how they behave. In an office situation, you’re watching your boss always very closely for the cues. If you’re not getting that by being face-to-face or in the same office environment, you probably get it some other way. Then the high group productivity, the difficulty is aligning everyone on the strategy, so that becomes more complex and you’ve got to look at ways of doing that.
It’s on that point, it’s very hard on Zoom, particularly in larger groups where everybody may not get a say. How do you combat that?
The way we do it is to break it down into smaller teams. What you don’t want is a team meeting where half the people are on their iPhone, texting away, while the lead is talking; you don’t want that. You break it down into more intimate teams, but as well as that, you can have an identified mentor to a small group of people. Even more intimately, you can set up a buddy situations so that I’m buddying with you, or maybe you and I are buddying with the third person. We are sort of forming closer collaborations, sort of virtually going down for a cup of coffee, that kind of thing. There are ways of doing this, and it’s very individual. The way a group of actuarial professionals might do it might be different to the way a bunch of marketing executives or advertising executives might do it.
Keeping everybody engaged and connected, that helps with the team culture. Again, culture is another buzz word, but it’s so important and so hard to maintain through COVID and through FaceTime and Zoom and all of those remote working apps.
We look at ways to innovate. Sometimes instead of having a meeting, you can make it a bit more lively and maybe give it a different night. Call your session a festival on occasions and have a get together once a month that isn’t a Zoom call. Have an actual face-to-face get together once a month, wherein the olden days, old days being over six months ago, you wouldn’t necessarily often have the boss organizing and paying for an event where you can go and have a few drinks and just sit around and joke and chat, and then go off and play up late into the night if you want to. But now, because we’re in a different era, we’ve got to look at different ways of keeping the culture strong and keeping people interested in what’s going on.
That feeds into, we all want something to look forward to whether that’s in our personal lives with a holiday, but at work as well, having something to look forward to. So, that’s also really important in trying to keep that group dynamic strong.
You’re right, but also it’s keeping individual productivity high. Now, in our business, we can measure productivity every day because of we work on an hourly rate, and so it’s very easy. But for people working for bosses, with people working remotely, where that is not the traditional way of recording productivity, bosses are going to have to look at another way of recording KPIs. People who aren’t used to having KPIs recorded that way are going to have to get used to it because when you’re working remotely, bosses have to be able to measure when your mental health goes down. You can measure that in the work output or you can measure that in other behaviours, in the tone of conversations, the level of engagement in Zoom calls, the level of attendance to social gatherings, those kinds of things. A boss with a high emotional intelligence will be able to pick up on that stuff.
So it may mean that bosses have to go off to re-education camp and learn. Those who haven’t naturally got high, emotional intelligence, high intuitive sense of how people are travelling with their work and their private lives need to go off and get a bit of training on that. Also, there’s an onus on the employee to put their hand up. As you know, in our company, we have sessions where people actually talk about their feelings. I know that’s an uncomfortable thing, particularly for blokes to do, that bit too touchy-feely, but once you start doing it, it’s hugely helpful for people to make them feel good about themselves and good about the group.
Then, of course, there’s the complexity of people working at home and having their families involved, which certainly complicates matters.
Traditionally, there’s a separation between work and home. There’s been either an explicit or implied understanding that you leave your work at work and you go home and care for the family. But now when everybody’s working from home and there’s a completely changed environment, I’m particularly sensitive about the woman or the person who’s the traditional child-carer, because if the person is now working from home, they’re torn in all directions. There’s a potential for a feeling of guilt, whereas it was you could stick the kids into childcare and go off to the office and have a break. Well, if that’s no longer such a flexible option, then you’ve got this pressure-cooker environment at home that people need to be self-aware about, but also bosses need to be aware about.
Yes, flexibility, understanding and empathy will play a key role in keeping staff happy, motivated, and productive. It will be very interesting to see where we end up over the next six to 12 months. Peter Wilkinson. Thank you.
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