As we all look forward to the easing of lockdown restrictions, many businesses have started to plan for a return to the office, and what this may look like. We recently held an event with senior finance leaders where we sought to understand what current business thinking is, and what this may mean for employees. Our audience consisted of finance leaders across a range of sectors and ranged from listed businesses to PE backed entities.
Many attendees explained how their offices have already been re-purposed; some have reduced their seating capacity by as much as 55%, creating more open space and opportunities for collaborative working. Those businesses who had not fully embraced paperless offices have now fully committed to this, making personal desk space less of a requirement in the office.
Many businesses spoke about a hybrid way of working, the sentiment is that flexible working will be fully embraced, with an expectation of physical office presence being around 2-3 days a week. A ‘core hours’ system was highlighted a way to ensure people from certain teams are in the office at the same time, referring to this as ‘collaboration days’. Businesses are keen to avoid situations where meetings are dominated by those present ‘in-person’ and virtual joiners marginalised. They are also keen to ensure there is a universal experience for certain meetings.
It is felt that it is still too soon to make firm company policies around attendance in the office. Many organisations want to retain an element of flexibility to see how things develop and how employees adjust to current restrictions being eased.
Training & development
With this shift to a permanent and more flexible way of working, businesses need to think about how to adapt their training and mentoring programmes, particularly for more junior members of staff. There needs to be a clearer approach in terms of instructions, general training, with greater, more formal clarity around expectations. Work will need to be reviewed more regularly and thoroughly by senior members of staff to ensure more junior individuals continue to develop and progress.
There is also a strong focus on developing strategies to ensure more junior members of staff are supported from a well-being and emotional perspective when working remotely. Many businesses are concerned about ‘role modelling’ with less in person contact and connectivity. They are working on strategies to ensure the company culture, its values and vision reach all employees, regardless of their presence in the office. This is particularly important in relation to early talent not being able to see the subtleties of leadership styles around culture when working remotely.
No longer London centric
An interesting shift for some businesses is them moving away from being London centric, with some of the larger businesses creating more regional hubs, closer to where employees live. Employees are also more open to considering roles in locations they would not previously have considered. Greater flexibility enables longer commutes being more palatable if only being made for 2 - 3 days a week.
There appears to be a gradual shift within international businesses, away from employee mobilisation. Many large businesses are seeing a decrease in interest of internal international moves, with a reluctance to commit to a permanent relocation; this shift in attitudes potentially means a re-alignment of certain roles due to a less agile workforce.
As businesses continue to work towards a return to the office, we expect there to be some fluidity around that policies may look like, with firm decisions being made once we have identified what the ‘new norm’ is.