Chairman's Network - Changing Face of the Workplace
At the 7th September Chairman’s Network event members and guests discussed the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on business facing the challenges of digitalisation, retaining talent, and the future role of the workplace.
- How are firms evolving post-COVID, amidst the global trends of digitalisation, the rising adoption of AI and an increasingly diverse workforce, in creating workplaces for the future?
- What are the implications for leaders in retaining and attracting talent in a post-covid world?
- What is the role of the workplace or workspace in the future of work? Will there be a short-term impact or enduring change to where we work?
The group discussion led by Caroline Hayward and John Harte considered the three questions and how it has affected their businesses and those they have worked with.
Overall, business leaders are thinking about how to change their businesses, and the impact of the pandemic on their roles in shaping the future. Despite the difficulties faced staying at home and for many not being able to see loved ones, people are less keen to return to face to face working, and many are happy with working online. Some have found the focus of the online environment beneficial when going through training or coaching as it feels more personal and about them.
Overall, home working has also been shown to be more productive. People are generally more focused on their online meetings and have fewer interruptions from colleagues. Despite an increase in short-term productivity, there has been a cost: the quality of human interaction is impacted. People are finding it difficult to generate effective working relationships online and are not building the same connections with their colleagues and managers as they would have done in person - the loss of the “water-cooler” moments in fostering collaboration, idea sharing and building relationships.
This new way of life has put a lot of pressure on managers and highlighted how some management teams are not able to manage their teams online effectively.
Working from home has made the onboarding process a lot harder when bringing in new and especially younger employees who want to go to work and see their friends and colleagues. Many younger employees started new roles wanting more flexibility with work, but now they are craving human interaction and a return to the workplace. Working from home has also affected many employees’ mental health; the wellbeing of employees and particularly mental health awareness and support have been major shifts in how we manage people at work.
More and more people are leaving their jobs because they haven’t experienced an onboarding process. They have not had an opportunity to meet and get to know any of their colleagues and have made no connections with anyone they work with. This makes people feel uninvolved. It is harder for them to build meaningful relationships and it’s easy to switch with lots of unfilled roles and remote working.
Dubbed “the great resignation” working from home has also caused people to leave their jobs more actively, even when they have nothing else lined up. Employees have a new confidence that they can find something else quickly as they are no longer restrained by location and distance. Companies need to make it a priority to build emotional connections and loyalty with younger generations as they won’t feel it necessary to stay if they don’t get the support they are looking for.
Some businesses have now incorporated hybrid meetings, with some people online and some people in the office. This adds a new challenge, as the people in the office often find it difficult to interact with colleagues on screen. In meetings, it is the role of the chair to make sure that everyone gets their say and we need to learn how to change the way we work to adapt to the new reality.
There was an overwhelmingly positive view of the importance of the workplace as a fundamental contributor to wellbeing but we do need to rethink our workplaces for the future. People find it better to build emotional connections in person, however, they are more productive when working online. Some businesses are finding transactional meetings are more efficient online, whereas if you’re discussing new and creative ideas, meeting in person allows colleagues to bounce ideas off each other as they connect and communicate more easily.
Ultimately, different cultures face different ways of working, some are more focused on building relationships whereas others are more focused on getting results.
Workplaces have now moved from places we work to a place where we meet, train, collaborate and onboard. Businesses are redesigning their offices to accommodate this new role of the workplace. This redesign is becoming a cost for companies who are trying to make their offices COVID-safe. The implication of such large-scale change has led to selling off workplaces, investment in more space or in some extreme cases to closure.
It was felt that the companies that are doing better are facilitating a hybrid workstyle, such as working half a week from home and the other half in the office. This helps to accommodate new starters, helping them build close connections, whilst also enabling those who feel more productive and focused working from home to continue to do so.
Companies need to understand their business needs and then develop a way of working, either from home or in office or a hybrid of both that best suits their objectives. Finding frameworks that evolve to meet current and future job roles to ensure they win the war on talent and continue to thrive as businesses is a critical new responsibility of business leaders.