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From remote to flexible with purpose

martin
Martin Brierley
Creative Partner

Considerations on the post CoVid workplace

One year ago we all went behind closed doors into “remote” working. “Remote”: the word itself conjures loneliness, or maybe even automation. Being remote is not a warm human experience. So we went into a new world of work which was defined as distanced and lonely, and one in which the “centre” controlled us. Distanced from the mothership, the long controlling arm of the centre needed to be heeded. And there of course lies chaos:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre the centre cannot hold” – WB Yeats

There’s a sense in both readings of the word “remote” that businesses were not ready to lose their control and had little faith in their workforce to deliver the same or improved levels of productivity. A patrician attitude lacking trust which seems now to be a legacy of the world pre-web, and certainly pre-pandemic. 

But that’s not how we are coming out of the Year of Lockdown. Businesses have now realised that their newly “distributed” workforce can actually deliver levels of productivity which in many cases are above where they were Before CoVid. 

The world has changed in so many ways. In the “BC” world businesses were obsessed with the belief that collaboration could only take place within four walls. In the pre-Covid world there were many who also believed that the path to digital transformation for their business could be slow and considered. They’ve had to realise that it's not a slow path but a super fast freeway.

 

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Only last week Nationwide announced that all their 10,000 workforce may now work from wherever they like (in the UK). 

Well we have all learnt that change through the enabling power of digital tools and practices has changed our customers’ behaviours, but they have also had a fundamental impact on the way we work. 

As we come out of lockdown and enter the world After CoVid businesses are priding themselves on their new flexible approach. “AC we are coming to terms with the new practical interpretations of  “flexible”.  But how does flexible look? 

We are listening to our workforce, who are telling us they no longer wish to commute three hours a day from an out of city home, missing their kids breakfast, dinner and bedtime, and paying a chunk of their salaries to transport season tickets. 

You might be questioning what the office of the future might look like. Of course the first thing is that none of us know what the future will actually be like (except maybe Elon Musk).

But what we can do is prepare for it. Here are some considerations based on our own learnings:

 

1. Purpose is the glue that holds your company together

Your future workplace will exist in the minds of your team. That means that your primary aim is to be prepared with a mission – the “why” of Simon Sinek’s Why How What. “Start with the Why.” If your people don’t understand your values and why they are doing what they are doing – they will NOT be with you.

And in the newly “distributed” workplace that means the glue that ties your company together will dissolve. They will soon become disaffected and be looking to bring someone else’s “why” into their lives… And you will be remote (cast aside by your board and left on the remote island of your unfortunate destiny).

 
2. Flexible working isn’t just location

Having “granted” the flexibility of location you will need to start considering other forms of flexibility – extending your trust and belief in your team to the hours they work, to their holidays and to their more general “benefits”. As an interesting diversion you might read Reed Hastings’ Rules No Rules – Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, which shows what real trust and “flexibility” can deliver.


3. Grow the CVs of your people

As you grow your company – hopefully rapidly in the changed environment, fast enough to keep pace with changing technologies at least – bear in mind that you are also growing the CVs of your people. At the end of the day we all like to be able to say “Yeah... I’m proud to say I worked on that.” And you will need to be mindful of keeping pace with their accelerated expectations. Encourage and reward ambition and passion even at a distance – in fact even more so at a distance.

Of course, alongside these there are a myriad of micro considerations, such as who will benefit from your reduced rent and rate bill? (Your team, your clients, or your shareholders?) Plus practical questions such as will I really benefit from the gym in the new flexible workspace?

Either way we look forward to seeing what the future holds!

With thanks to my wise friend Bengt Skarstam.

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