The past 18 months have been something of a roller coaster – never in my wildest ‘working’ dreams did I imagine that as head of HR for Zonal, I would be handling the fall out of a global pandemic. I realise I’m not alone and that each and every one of us has had our routine of life, both professionally and personally, turned on its head.
As we start to head back into the office, I am convinced that the world of work has changed forever. Flexibility is the name of the game.
For some of us, homeworking has been a welcome relief from the strains of a daily commute. For others, it has been a real challenge, whether battling for space and peace from partners and children or missing that face to face interaction with colleagues.
At Zonal we understand that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to work has been confined to history. It’s time to say hello to the hybrid model. Allowing employees to split their work time between home and the office is the new norm.
Despite technology to adopt virtual working practices being available for many years, the truth is that perhaps a lack of trust between managers and staff was one of the key barriers to such an approach pre-pandemic. To quote Dolly Parton, ‘working 9 to 5’ in the office five days a week, seems so old hat. Lockdown has shown that employees can realistically work anywhere using technology to stay connected with peers and customers, wherever they are in the world.
However, this hybrid approach to work isn’t without its challenges. How do you foster culture and a sense of belonging with remote workers? We’ve tried lots of different ways to interact with our teams in the past 20 months or so. We’ve gone digital, trying fortnightly e-newsletters during furlough, we’ve fully embraced Teams as a way of holding group and 1-2-1 meetings and have enjoyed quizzes and team challenges virtually.
On one hand, recruitment might be easier, as most roles will be less dependent on location thus further driving the flexible workforce. But employers will have to become more ‘in tune’ with employees, adapting their comms to suit remote workers. Some of our people may never be back in the office. We have to adjust to suit these changing circumstances. There is a need for flexibility of course, but the way we communicate, interact with and include our people across the business needs to change too.
But it’s not just about remote workers. It’s also the impact of change on those choosing to return to the office. We have already seen high street brands, such as Debenhams and John Lewis, either completely disappearing or closing anchor stores in our city centres due to the drop in footfall and the switch to online retail.
The knock-on effect in terms of transport, hospitality and accommodation cannot be underestimated. Not only have our offices changed, but our city centres too.
It will be interesting to see how the next few months pan out as we open up our offices across the UK and give employees greater choice and flexibility in the way in which they go about their work.
Screen time and ‘life on screen’ have taken on a whole new meaning.