Re-imagining the Workplace Post-pandemic

Whilst restrictions due to COVID-19 are currently on-going, it is important to consider what the workplace will be like once we are able to return to a pandemic-free (or at least a less controlled) working life.

The length of time in which we have all been living under restrictions has had a deep and long-lasting impact on businesses and the workplace. 

Many organisations have had to adapt their working practices; some have new hires who have never met their team members and all businesses have employees whose mindset regarding working has changed. Purpose HR wanted to provide some food for thought on the working world after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

There are three key elements which will be critical for businesses to consider in the post restrictions world. These are:

  • Culture
  • Office purpose and flexible working
  • Wellbeing

Culture

Culture remains one of the biggest drivers for businesses to achieve sustainable success and this has not changed during the pandemic. What has changed, however, is how to manage, maintain and develop a company culture when employees are not meeting face to face.

One big question which is worth considering is: what behaviours do we need in order to live our values and purpose in a remote or semi remote working world?

Professional behaviour has always been important but consider if the specific behaviours needed from employees have changed during the pandemic. Consider whether behaviours such as resilience, communication or collaboration have grown in importance to your business.  If there has been a shift in the necessary behaviours needed within the organisation’s new way of working, has this been communicated to team members and what actions have been put in place to help support employees to develop and strengthen these behaviours?

Equally, businesses who are recruiting should consider how the new behaviours can be demonstrated within the recruitment process. Online tools can be used to test behaviours; the use of video interviews can be an excellent way to ask difficult questions such as, “what has been your most difficult moment during the past 12 months, how did you respond to this and what did you learn from it?”. Additionally, it may be worth considering an on-line assessment designed to demonstrate strong problem-solving skills or managing within a pressured environment. While online tools may not be right for all businesses, every organisation should consider what changes to the behaviours needed have taken place and how can this be tested as part of the recruitment process.

Office purpose and flexible working

While many businesses offered some level of flexible working to their employees pre COVID-19, it is unlikely that many companies had the current level of remote working. This extended period of remote working has had a deep-seated impact on employees, with a recent study by Cardiff and Southampton Universities suggesting the majority of employees do not want to return to full-time office-based working.

As such, it’s important to consider how your business will address this desire from your team members, and therefore to consider what is the purpose of your office space. There are three approaches here which companies can look at adopting.

Firstly, a return to previous ways of working with the majority of team members being office based.  This approach may jar with many employees seeking more flexibility and could cause issues with retention as employees seek a flexible working environment outside the company.

The second approach is a blended model, with employees splitting their time between home and the office and spending at least a couple of days a week working from home. This approach offers the greatest flexibility as companies can request that employees work between 1 and 4 days a week at home.  It also enables some flexibility for employees while allowing the business to come together at set points on a regular (e.g. weekly) basis.

If considering the blended approach, you should review what the aims of this approach are and why you are seeking to bring the company together at set times. Is the aim to enable informal information sharing, collaboration sessions, meetings or creative time for teams to brainstorm and problem solve face to face? If you are seeking to come together for collaboration and creative sessions it may be worth considering your office space. Do all employees still need their own desk? Would more breakout and creative spaces be more useful than desk space? Would the whole company come together on a weekly basis or just specific teams? There are many elements to consider within this area, however the core question remains, “what is the purpose of our office space?”.

The final option to consider when looking at remote is whether, as a company, you wish to go fully remote. This approach may suit some employees but not all, and again may have an impact on retention as some employees prefer some level of office base. There are clear cost benefits from this model, however there are also drawbacks. You may need to hire space to meet at set points in the year to come together and culture will need to be strong to enable a fully remote team.

Wellbeing

The third and final element for businesses to consider in the post restriction world is employee wellbeing.  Many employees have had personal struggles through the pandemic and may be feeling low from the overall impact of long-term social distancing and living under restrictions. Traditional methods of checking in on staff might not all adapt well to the remote working model, and it is harder to understand how an employee is coping when you are not seeing them daily in the office.  It is therefore worth considering new and alternative approaches to wellbeing.

Consider if your business culture actively supports positive wellbeing: do you have a wellbeing officer? Are members of your team trained in mental health first aid? Have managers had training on how to support any team members who are struggling and do they know what signs to pick up on?  Providing training for managers, as well as putting in place active structures to support wellbeing, can have a huge impact on productivity and team efficiency.   

Consider running a wellbeing awareness week which could include information sessions, lunch and learn sessions and you also may wish to ask if any employees or members of the senior team would like to share their personal stories linked to wellbeing. In addition, access to an employee assistance programme (EAP) can help all employees, particularly those not willing to talk to their manager about personal difficulties. EAPs support more than mental health and can also provide guidance on financial problems and bereavement.

Moving forward, it is likely that the wellbeing of team members may need to be given greater consideration than before, as the full impact of COVID-19 is realised both by businesses and individual employees.

Purpose HR can provide help and support to businesses who are seeking to re-imagine core elements of their working practices in order to adapt to the changing environment and employee needs. We can also support businesses to develop and implement culture-led recruitment processes. For more information please contact the Purpose HR team by emailing info@purposehr.co.uk