Ask the Expert

As part of our on-going commitment to providing useful, industry-leading resources on the Opensolutions-London blog, we’re beginning a series of “ask the expert” type interviews on the next-generation sales and marketing techniques being used to grow businesses around the world.

How Has the Pandemic Changed our Thinking on Work?

Felix Spender is a former soldier turned professional peacemaker now getting people, businesses and organisations working collaboratively to achieve their ambitions. 

He supports those businesses that want to improve their levels of cooperation and collaboration so that they can SURVIVE, COMPETE and FLOURISH.

Open Solutions Global News
Open Solutions Global News Tweet
Open Solutions Global Linked IN

24 May 2021

In conversation with Patrycja Maksymowicz  

Patrycja M.: There’s a lot of talk about how to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic. Before COVID-19, the largest disruptions to work involved new technologies.

My team and I  had numerous conversations with companies about their internal processes, reviewing strategies, generating new ways to improve sales, but with the remote work likely to continue, now more than ever, we can see an equally big need to look at the human element within organisations. 

I’d like to talk about the way the workplace is changing. 

Felix S.: The workplace has been changing slowly over the last decade as businesses struggled to achieve a balance between the needs of the organisation and those of the individual. Flexible working and working from home were found on the periphery but the majority commuted to a central hub for fixed hours. Some sectors were more forward-looking but there were large swathes of companies that had a very traditional outlook. COVID-19 changed all that when businesses dispersed to survive. Remote and flexible working became the norm and that is a genie that won’t go back in the bottle. 

P.M: Why was COVID so important? 

F.S: Our response to the lockdowns showed us that we could work differently. Managers who had a traditional outlook had no option but to adapt. They were no longer able to physically supervise their staff, so goal setting, behaviour and trust became paramount. Individuals learnt to manage their outputs and appreciated the increased autonomy and flexibility, while leadership teams needed to become more engaged and supportive. Productivity doesn’t appear to have suffered and a Deloitte’s survey found that 55% of workers believed that their colleagues were as productive, if not more productive than before lockdown.

P.M.: I will second that. The majority of the CEOs I know say they’d have no problem giving their employees the choice of working from home. Challenging times have also awakened an extra dose of creativity. Over the last months, I have seen new ideas take off, new tech developed, new ventures launched. 

Speaking of which, you’ve launched Springboard to The Future relatively recently. What were the main drives? 

F.S.: Like many businesses, we hit the buffers last year when the pandemic struck and had plenty of time to think about how we could contribute to the COVID recovery. It became clear that the lessons from lockdown gave businesses an opportunity to increase collaboration, productivity and individual well-being by adopting new working models. As we listened to the “chatter” it became clear that there was no single way forward – Goldman Sachs wanted everybody back in the office while Barclays was embracing a hybrid organisation. So, we set out to help businesses define the model that is right for them.

P.M.: Many organisations are looking at a hybrid model with some teams working from home while others from the office. Would you agree those working in the office would have a better opportunity to develop stronger relations both with colleagues as well as their managers? Do you think there is a risk of this having an impact on feedback, fair reviews and employment continuity? 

F.S.: This is one of the key issues that will undermine the hybrid system and turn it into the “horrible hybrid”, leading to a fractured workforce, stressed management, rising conflict, failing culture and chaos. We don’t believe that you can just lift and drop existing processes into a hybrid model, what you need to do is design your hybrid model from first principles ensuring that purpose, culture, leadership, processes and technology are all aligned from the outset. 

P.M.: A big challenge to get it right. 

There is a lot of talk about the impact working from home has had on all of us. 

What about the hybrid model, do you see any psychological consequences of it coming and if so, how can we minimise them? 

F.S.: In thinking about this, I am struck by the comment from Pete Watson of Atlas Cloud (2021) “One of the few bright spots of the coronavirus is that it shows we can build a better way of working which will help to create better businesses, a better society and ultimately better lives for ourselves, our colleagues and our families. We now have a golden opportunity to embrace flexible and remote working to create a better work-life balance for millions of people.”

Employee well-being and work-life balance were brought into sharp relief during the lockdowns. Working from home has been a useful experiment but not a panacea. Some have thrived on it while others, particularly the young, have struggled. Most people have enjoyed the increased flexibility and few have missed the commute, but many have missed the social interaction of the office. The hybrid model, if it is done right, provides an opportunity to design work for well-being, unleash worker potential and create high levels of collaboration with “superteams”.

P.M.: One of the recent Gartner’s surveys revealed that 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. 

This will be critical to the way organisations function. I can see numerous challenges developing relations, building trust… 

How can leaders effectively respond to these HR trends and ensure their organisation creates a good working culture? 

F.S.: That’s a great question that should start alarm bells ringing across boardrooms and HR departments. Contingency workers cover a wide spectrum of individuals who need to be considered as part of the team. They may not be employees but they are cogs in the operation. I would take 3 steps, firstly I would make them aware of the company’s culture, how you do things and what is expected of them; secondly, I would ensure that there is good communication with a human face; lastly, I would show them that they are valued. We all work to generate income, but we work better when we are appreciated. 

P.M.: Onboarding new employees, providing sensitive feedback are examples of activities that may lose some effectiveness when done remotely. Would you have any tips on the ways to go about them?  

F.S.: This is a really challenging area. Companies have managed to harness technology for the formal elements of induction but it has proved hard to replicate the osmotic effect of office life. New employees have difficulty asking the myriad of questions that arise during work: opening another zoom call to answer a water cooler question seems to be a step too far. This is an area where companies need to experiment, set up what they think will work and adjust it using the feedback from new employees. One practical idea that we have picked up is setting up a non-judgemental chat group where new employees can ask the questions they need to know. 

P.M.: I think it’s a great one. A couple of companies we work with are using Slack and Discord for this as well as a ‘water-cooler’ place and it seems to work well. 

And how to leverage the team? Bring people together to ensure alignment on plans and priorities? 

F.S.: First off you have to have a team that is more than just the names on the organogram. People need to be clear about the purpose and buy into it. Secondly, bringing people together is even more important now – and time on group calls needs to be allowed for the social interaction that binds teams together – for some people, that may be their only social interaction with their work colleagues all week. Thirdly, there is a huge amount of experience in teams as they have all been working remotely for over a year, so use that to get insights about what works for your organisation and what could be improved to make it sustainable for the longer term. This has the additional bonus of helping people feel that they have been consulted and therefore more likely to buy into any future changes.

P.M.: Would you say the above are the most common challenges organisations are approaching you currently to help with? 

F.S.: For many businesses, the key challenge will be one of capacity. Across the country owners, CEOs and managers are working flat out to keep their heads above water. Finding the capacity to even think about change, rather than just drifting back to your old ways, will be difficult. Following on from that, defining the change is difficult because there are no templates and few case studies to guide us. Each business will have to develop its own model. The final challenge will be one of getting it right. This will be as much about well-being and work-life balance as it is about productivity. The key will be to get the solution right for most people for most of the time. People, after all, are at the heart of your business. 

P.M.: Any final piece of advice? 

F.S.: Firstly, don’t be afraid. We are moving through a historical turnstile so you will have to embrace change eventually. Secondly, think it through, don’t just follow the crowd. Thirdly, consult with the team and come up with a solution that suits the majority most of the time, not just what the boss desires. Finally, be prepared to use outside assistance, we are here to help. 

Remote and flexible working became the norm and that is a genie that won’t go back in the bottle.

Featured posts