As the obstacles are cleared from our path out of lockdown, it is easy to identify a certain ubiquitous anxiety blanketing a range of organisations from multinational banks to tech start-ups. This tangible nervousness may at first be disregarded as an overreaction but when considered fully, is wholly justified. A flexible return to the office can simply be defined as a hybrid routine of home and office working days, but its simplicity ends there. Redefine this challenge and we are faced with the task of recreating an entire office culture that is flexible. How do you ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time for the magic to happen? That nervousness seems a little more reasonable doesn’t it? 

Many have turned to Appointedd’s online booking tools in order to ease a flexible return to office with an equally flexible office management system. Allowing staff to book office resources in advance, not only enhances office efficiency but enables transparent contract tracing ensuring the return to office is as safe as it is flexible. 

For simplicity’s sake, this blog will focus on the complexities of flexible returning to the office, as well as highlighting several core pillars to embrace as you lead your company into the exciting new world of hybrid working. 

Crunch time is fast approaching

With such a large proportion of UK companies opting for a flexible return to office approach, they broadly fall into three categories. 

  1. Those fully investing in preparation and are redesigning working practices
  2. Those that haven’t but intent to, and 
  3. Stragglers oblivious to the impending impact that flexibility will have on everything from operational processes, internal politics and wider company culture. 

Speaking with Bloomberg, Margarete McGrath, head of strategic propositions at Dell Technologies explained that;

“It could be absolutely chaotic. That’s our fear, that they actually haven’t pulled together a hybrid working strategy. There are lots of organisations lagging behind … they’re not fully grasping the extent of this paradigm shift around work”. 

It is clear that the next eight months will be less evolution and more revolution of workplace practices. The opportunity exists to optimise working from home. Recent research has found that employees feel more productive completing key elements of work at home, whilst other tasks benefit greatly from an office environment. For example, reading, creative thinking, and planning meetings are more productive at home. However, learning from others, informal social interactions and hosting clients are predictably more productive in the office. Therefore it is argued that to maximise productivity in a flexible office, job roles should be managed and adapted to this new style of working. It is therefor concerning that a recent King’s College study found that while 97% of companies intend on a hybrid return, only 36% plan on redesigning job roles to better accommodate this flexibility.

Divisions within the workplace 

It’s also imperative to consider the wider social and culture divisions that come from separating your workforce. After weighing up the pro’s and con’s of a hybrid return to office, Dropbox decided against it due to “some pretty significant drawbacks” including “issues with inclusion or disparities with respect to performance and career trajectory” explains Melanie Collins, chief people officer. 

The underlying fear is that we are innately hierarchical beings, and with status being positively correlated to the number of days spent in the office, we are facing a future with many more employees experiencing flexibility stigma. Defined as the “discrimination and negative perception towards workers who work flexibly” and the consequent negative impact on career development. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, Mortensen, associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD warns that we need to “tell people the risk is, if you are working remotely, you will be missing out on something that might prove beneficial in your career”

The rude awakening

Preparedness is also an obligation of employees. Whilst flexible return may sound like the best of both worlds, cracks are already appearing in this facade. Aviva, an organisation that understands the approaching paradigm shift has not only begun redefining job roles and organising office logistics, but are communicating that changing expectations will impact employees too. For example, employees will be expected to organise adequate childcare to ensure working from home goes uninterrupted. The leniency of a national lockdown is soon coming to an end. 

With a flexible return to the office presenting several complications for both management and employees, here are 3 tips, that when taken into serious consideration, can mitigate the impact of a flexible return.

Proactive businesses are using Appointedd’s online booking tools to establish an efficient office management system, allowing employees to book office entry, hot desks and meeting rooms from home. Not only has this ensured a flexible return but a safe one, fully enabling contact tracing. 

1. Culture and communication

Although a flexible return to the office is well intentioned, the possibility of this new structure creating a divisive and unfair culture is all too real. With those mainly working from home potentially excluded from serendipitous opportunities, decisions or avenues to career development.

In order to avoid this, it is essential to maintain the aggressive prioritisation of communication we experienced throughout lockdown, into our return. It is a risk that once we become comfortable again speaking across desks that forgetting to cc or slack message the members of the team working from home that day can lead to a destructive downward spiral. In tandem with removing home workplace distractions, ensuring common working hours are maintained across teams, and reachability is clearly defined, we can continue to optimise the free flow of communication between the office and those working from home. 

2. Keeping an ear to the ground

As we step towards flexibility, we also take a step towards personalisation. Allowing employees to work in an environment that best suits their way of work. However, a successful return to a flexible environment depends on management’s understanding of these personal preferences and needs, awareness that these may change in the future and addressing potential issues in advance. Duncan Cheatle, chief executive of learn at CMI identified several large organisations, including Hubspot, that successfully use employee personas to reduce complexity. Utilising regular one-to-ones to identify employee characteristics, often reflecting life stages, and grouping them into working style preferences. This allows management to customise scalable working options based on preferences, not only ensuring an initial success but a solution that adapts to future changes in employee preference. 

3. Don’t trip on the small sticks

The majority of UK businesses were forced into rapidly adapting to a work from home stance throughout lockdown, establishing internal processes to keep the wheels turning. But we cannot let our excitement for something new undermine the solid foundations of effective digital processes.

Digital communication, performance management, recruitment and onboarding, the list of processes built goes on and on. Whilst these processes have been built, moving towards a flexible return shouldn’t be seen as a relaxing of these processes but an evolution of them. Whilst onboarding new staff often fell under the radar during lockdown, a flexible return to work will provide a challenging opportunity. With arguably the most valuable learning experiences gained through osmosis, ensuring new-starts have the ability to immediately immerse themselves in the team is imperative. For this, it can be suggested that for the first few weeks, onboarding employees work full time from the office, meeting everyone as they come and go, before realising, communicating and settling into their own employee persona. 

A process that will need to be created however, is effective and safe office space management. Ensuring resources like meeting rooms, hot desks and specialist equipment are utilised effectively. Most importantly however, employers will need to complete risk assessments and ensure health and safety measures are in place to minimise risk of infection. Creating an office management system that achieves this and more, whilst providing staff members a seamless booking interface is made simple with Appointedd’s online booking tools

If you would like to explore how you can transform your flexible return to office strategy with Appointedd, book a consultation call here

Published on 2 June 2021