Return to work - Guest Blog By Sam Mead, Managing Director Mind Street

We are hearing about the ‘great resignation’ and the ‘great re-set’; however, a new disruption is emerging in the form of the ‘great return to the office’ as we emerge from an almost two-year hibernation from the artist formerly known as ‘working in the office’.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK pre-pandemic only 1.7 million of us worked from home and how quickly we pirouetted into a virtual world of working that changed how we lived, worked, and engaged with people. As a result, an estimated 20 million people relocated to home offices. It gave us many new and improved ways of working, innovations emerged such as the chance to wear casual on the bottom, business on top whilst multi-tasking the washing and the inbox. We re-allocated our commute time and there have been winners and losers, Pets being one of the clear winners, organisations with vast office space in previously highly sought-after locations one of the losers.

How do we navigate the great return to work in a way that meets the needs and motivations of the organisations whilst meeting the expectations of the people they employ? New vernacular is emerging, the ‘hybrid model’, ‘we are a 3:2 organisation’, ‘work anywhere, anytime’ What does this look like in reality, how do we get it done? The challenge facing organisations is not a ‘one size fits’ per organisation and here are 5 thought starters to ask yourselves as a leadership team when determining how we can best operate together to harness the power of the collective in this evolved future of work.

  1. What is our motivation driving our return-to-work policy? Motivations are based on emotions and asking yourself as a leader and a leadership team, what is driving our thinking? There is no right or wrong answer, it is worth considering however, before the ‘Welcome back to the office’ morning tea speech. There are growth motivations; connection, collaboration and our culture as constructive motivations that come to mind. There are also some motivations that are security driven. Lack of trust that people are working, ego of the leader to have their fiefdom present and accounted for as well as the stark commercial reality of the office space lease you have directly impacting your P&L each month.
  2. What have we learned about ourselves as an organisation from the last two years? Well, lots, however, lets focus this question on our operating model and ways of working. How did we operationalise our strategy in a mostly WFH model? What worked well? What didn’t? The new context for leaders is People have re-evaluated and re-connected with themselves and their families and friends via new rituals. This has created new rhythms and routines in how we work as individuals, as teams and as an organisation and identifying what is helping us and what is holding us back is helpful in aligning on when, why and how we connect be it physically and/or virtually.
  3. What is it we are trying to achieve? “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson. The organisational strategy is the best place to start when it comes to determining how we organise ourselves to achieve the plan. Very few businesses are seeing flat growth over the last 2 years, Winners and losers will result in the strategy requiring a re-visit after the global ‘punch in the face’. Is growth identifying new channels, customers, and previously unrecognised friction points in the operating model? Or is accelerated transformation required as your customers change their habits around how they consume your product or service? Regardless, identifying how well our strategy is being executed is key to how we work together.
  4. How do you want your people to describe the organisation to friends at a BBQ? This is the ultimate litmus test of how well your policy holds up, does it pass the pub test as the politicians would say? Could you explain the rationale of the work policy to a ten-year-old?  Does it make sense and why (see your answers to thought starter 1) We all react differently to change. In the same organisation, the last two years may have led to a person experiencing an expectation of an ‘always on’ mentality impacting their wellbeing, whilst others have embraced the change and never felt better, and some of the how people feel (engagement) is a result of the ‘norms and expectations of behaviour (culture) and this will give you a sense of the ‘vibe’ in your organisation.
  5. What is most important to the people you lead? We are in a time where the needs and wants of the team you lead in an organisation span a multigenerational workforce of 50+ years. From the baby boomers generation to Millennials, what is important may vary greatly and not just by age, by gender, type of work and level in in the organisation. This context is important to better understand from this broad collective; What have been some of the benefits and the unintended consequences of the last 2 years? How can we make it easier for you to serve your customers?
If you are interested in better understanding this critical energy force in your business contact us at Pure Blue Ocean or Mind Street to discuss how our People and Culture ‘vibe’ analysis may help inform the design of your future fit work model. For example, what parts of your culture are helping you and hindering you as you navigate the great return to the office?
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