First Published by Financial Reporter
The ‘Working From Home’ Era
Today you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief sweep across the nation, as millions of parents and carers saw their children back into school after two more months of home-schooling.
To say it’s been a challenging period for many would be a massive understatement – trying to do the day-job, particularly if you have not been used to working from home, might be difficult enough, but add in the responsibilities to children, regardless of what age they are, and I would not begrudge anyone a stiff drink this evening.
It has been a long (and eventful) 12 months. On the 20th March last year we closed our head office and embarked on the ‘working from home’ era. I’ve yet to come across anyone who thought we would be in a similar position almost a year on, but here we are, and it’s testament to the hard work, and flexibility, of all concerned that we are currently in such a strong position.
With children going back to school, and with the vaccination programme giving hundreds of thousands of people the Covid-19 jab every single day, we can perhaps begin to think that the rest of 2021 will see further normality ‘milestones’ reached, and somewhere along the lines one of them might be a return to workplaces.
Forward Planning At SDL Surveying
We’ve certainly been putting in place our plans for any such return, and working on the assumption that the key dates set out by the Government may well be hit, but that if the data doesn’t agree then we’ll have to be flexible.
For other firms considering what they might do next, that focus on flexibility would seem to be good ongoing advice. Not just flexibility in terms of when you might allow staff back into the office, for example, but also in terms of how that might work, and how you might manage your staff’s ability to get together and work collaboratively.
This is an important point, and one which you shouldn’t overlook, because I’m sure (like us) if push came to shove and you had to operate away from your offices for many months, perhaps even years, you would be able to do this. It might be far from ideal, but that’s what we’ve had to cope with in the last 12 months, and I’m sure we could do so again.
But, if the option of working back in the office is available, how might you deliver on that, while also recognising that you may not be able to deliver office working in the way you did pre-pandemic.
That’s certainly the case for us. By the time we reopen our head office – a space in which we could previously have accommodated over 120 people – we will have only 60 desks available, and anyone wanting to use them on any given day, will need to book.
The reasons for this are obvious in terms of social distancing and spacing, but our view is also on ensuring that office working should (initially at least) be more of a preserve for collaborative or project working. There’s definitely a big part of our business that has missed out from people not being in the same location, not being able to bounce ideas off each other as they might, and everything else that you get from working in close proximity. Albeit not that close anymore.
Flexibility Is Paramount
Of course, Zoom and indeed Teams has done its bit, but we are going to focus the office more on those project work days, or coaching needs, or training requirements, and ask our staff to do their more day-to-day work from home. In that way, we hope our staff get the best of both worlds, giving them a freedom and flexibility that we may not have offered before, but which we think is absolutely right for the future.
I suspect other office-based firms will also be reviewing how they operate from now on, and from our perspective, the worst thing we might do is insist on everyone coming back to the office as they used to. Some people will want to of course; some people will need to, and I think it’s important to acknowledge the potential mental health benefits of getting people out of an environment in which they both live and work; and some will want to do a combination of both.
And having those options from now on, I think will be appreciated by staff, and indeed clients alike, because it’s clear to us that we won’t (and can’t) go back to how things were pre-March last year. We all have to perhaps introduce an element of flexibility to our working practices that wasn’t there previously, and we have to be aware that it has not been easy for anyone.
What we don’t wish to do is make it any harder by pushing people to work in a way which they are no longer comfortable with; by not doing that, we believe we can keep employees happy, engaged, productive and supported. It will take time to adjust but getting it right should be beneficial for all.
Simon Jackson, Managing Director at SDL Surveying