Back to work – but are your staff prepared to follow?

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Future of Work experts at leading UK universities warn of disruption if managers try to force their teams back to the way things were before lockdown.

As mandatory working from home lifts, managers should be aware that employee expectations around how they work have evolved significantly, they say.

In a special report from fintech startup Soldo in collaboration with several universities, management experts suggest that companies need to radically redesign their business processes.

Dr Naeema Pasha: expect attitudes to change

Employees who worked productively at home throughout the lockdown will strongly resist managers enforcing limitations on where and when they do their work, according to Dr Naeema Pasha, Director of Henley Careers, Henley Business School, University of Reading.

The team at HBS, who before the lockdown created the three-stage model for remote working to help companies structure a gradual move to distributed teams, have now added a fourth stage covering employees moving back into shared workspaces called ‘Reconnect and Revive’. This addition to the model means that businesses need to acknowledge that their employees will expect their original working conditions to be revised.

The future of work – what the academics say

She explained: “If you have remote workers who return to the office environment, expect to see some degree of permanent change in their attitudes and needs. Some will ask whether the business needs everyone in the workplace at the same time.

“Equally, others will never want to work from home again – too much proximity to the fridge is not good for me!”

businesses need to redesign their relationship with their staff

These differences clearly point to the fact that companies need to consider a hybrid model that allows much greater flexibility for workers to do their jobs from the locations where they’re most productive.

“This report highlights the fact that businesses need to redesign their relationship with their staff.” says Darren Upson, VP of Small Business Europe at Soldo.

“Even with the lockdown lifting, many of our customers are talking about the need to be prepared for potential future lockdowns,” he said.

“Obviously, everyone hopes for the best, but smart business leaders have a plan for the worst. It’s simply a commercial reality that every company needs to have the right tools in place to ensure business continuity in all possible scenarios.”

Embracing a hybrid working model will have some major implications. With team members distributed across distances – some preferring the office environment and others getting more done without long commutes – managers need to look at what has been successful during the lockdown and apply that to a more permanent way of working.

There was a clear consensus among the academics who contributed to the report that, while there will be challenges, with the right mindset, strategies and technologies, businesses will achieve happier and more productive workforces, enabled and connected in novel ways, and capable of delivering targets with new-found resilience.

The report reveals five key areas in which managers need to redesign how they run their teams. 

  1. Structure their teams for agility
  2. Transform key employees into leaders
  3. Be aware of their duty of care for the physical and mental health of their teams
  4. Distribute company money efficiently to empower autonomy
  5. Leverage technology to facilitate new levels of productivity

Read the report here