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Businesses need to evolve or die as we return to the office

by jcp

Alex Graves, CEO of Silicon Reef and an expert in modern working models and technology, explains why businesses need to up their game as staff return to work.

The great return to the office is upon us. Just as school kids went back to the classroom this month, swathes of desk-based staff began new working patterns. As they did so, a frightening truth about employee attitudes to post-COVID working practices was clear.

Put simply, firms across the UK are at risk of losing a staggering 71 per cent of their staff if they can’t offer the flexibility employees have grown used to over the past year. As if to underline this further, 43 per cent say they’re likely to resign if they don’t get what they want, according to our Work Happy report.

It’s clear that the past two years have opened our eyes to a different way of working and shown us a life of balance and more personal choice. Employees have woken up, and they are calling for change. In this context, businesses need to evolve or die.

Why are people more likely to change jobs now?

People were happier working from home and the evidence shows that if we don’t give them the flexibility to choose how they work in the future, they’ll walk. This is because in sectors where roles can be done remotely, geographic barriers to employment have fallen, significantly opening up access to the recruitment market.

The fear of a significant change in lifestyle – including disruption to family life, the need to move house, or work away from home – has gone, giving even the most cautious of employees the confidence to put their skills on the open market.

The upside for employers is that they also have the benefit of a near unlimited pool of talent. But only if they can establish a working model that attracts the best people. In short, to either retain existing staff or attract new team members, that model must be one that offers choice for the individual and meets their needs. This begs the question, what do employees want from a flexible working environment?

The right tech to allow collaboration

Unsurprisingly, the biggest demand is a simple one. People want the ability to continue as they have done, with 86 per cent of employees looking for the freedom to work from home to some degree or another in the future. Businesses need to take this change in attitude seriously and create a technology framework for blended home and office working.

This is the first step in evolving to meet the demands of a post-pandemic workplace. Yet, our data shows that 39 per cent of people say they miss the tools and technology that they need to work effectively from home. With staff having done so for over 18 months, there really is no excuse for this.

While the basics of video conferencing and file sharing are probably already in place, more attention needs to be given to other resources that were once available in the office. This might include offering a platform for professional development. This can often be integrated into existing software such as Microsoft Teams, allowing leaders and employees to curate, create, and track learning while aligning activities with both business outcomes and personal goals.

Well-being, wherever you are

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The second step is to encourage a culture of well-being. This can sound like a daunting task, but in reality, simple steps can help set the scene. For example, the mental health charity Mind suggests embedding mental health awareness in onboarding, having mental health speakers at events, creating mental health champions and having a public statement on the matter.

Once implemented, more practical day-to-day actions can be taken. This can include encouraging staff to work sensible hours, taking full lunch breaks, resting and recuperating after busy periods and avoiding working at weekends – especially from home. Leaders may also choose to force staff to take their full annual leave entitlement. Or, if they’re brave, abolish holiday limits.

From a technology perspective, encouraging a culture of well-being means having the right platforms to reach people wherever they are. For example, University College London has rolled out its Belong programme via collaboration tools. This is dedicated to ensuring staff feel welcome and know how to get help if they need it, regardless of location.

Managing productivity

This brings us to the third step, which involves helping teams working across locations to manage productivity and time. This can be achieved with simple techniques such as morning team calls at all levels of the business to plan goals, prioritise, delegate and agree periods when people won’t be interrupted.

Thinking of technology, there are also tools available to empower employees with the information they need to balance their own productivity, for example, Microsoft Viva Insights. This provides data driven information about the way people are working and gives them personalised recommendations to improve the way they do so.

Offering recognition

Finally, it’s vital that employers recognise workers for their efforts. In fact, nearly two fifths (39 per cent) of staff are worried that people think they’re not working as hard at home according to our Work Happy data. Without line-of-sight visibility from line managers or colleagues, they feel unable to demonstrate to others what they are doing.

Businesses therefore need to look for ways to bring people together to work visibly and collaboratively – wherever they are – connecting remote employee with the rest of the organisation and keeping them engaged in the flow of activity. Managers might also want to consider simple steps, such as weekly ‘shout outs’ to team members on catch-up calls. It would also be worth considering internal awards.

From a technology perspective, Yammer is a fantastic way to surface and share stories from across the business. This helps put people and their efforts in the spotlight so they are visibly rewarded for their work. Ikea has achieved this, using the platform to find stories about staff at a store level, before sharing them with its 170,000 staff around the world.

Change is vital

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that the workforce has woken up. The pandemic has changed something fundamental about the way we consider work. Employees know what they want, they know what works best for them, and they know how they can do their jobs in a way that suits them and enables them ‘Work happy’.

Employers need to consider this carefully and design future working models that help retain and attract staff. They need to understand what engages people, how they can be supported every day, and how they can create a flexible workplace. Because those businesses that don’t evolve at this crucial juncture, will surely be the ones that die.

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