What do you do when every employee is a ‘branch office’  

woman working in her car

Guest post by Peter Davenport

There is no doubt that the pandemic-imposed shift to home working has enabled many businesses to survive and, indeed, for some to thrive. But if the temporary becomes the permanent, will the negative consequences outweigh the positive benefits?

It’s a question taxing management teams across the economy and one brought into sharp focus again with a BBC survey that revealed that 79 per cent of business leaders and 70 per cent of the public believed it unlikely that people will ever return to offices at the same pre-Covid rate.

As the government introduces new employment legislation that gives employees the right to flexible working from the first day in a job rather than the current six months, it underlines the potential scale of the change.

The survey highlighted the challenge of satisfying corporate requirements and employee preference – half of the 530 senior business leaders surveyed said that workers remaining at home would adversely affect creativity and collaboration whilst the majority of workers said they would want to work from home full-time or at least some of the time.

This dilemma echoed the findings of a survey we commissioned earlier this year among 500 CEOs and Board directors of a broad cross-section of businesses, each with a least 250 employees and with annual revenues ranging from £50 million to more than £500 million.

Although the positive benefits of the new hybrid model in terms of a better work-life balance for employees were widely recognised, they were almost equally countered by concerns about the potential negative impacts on business performance.

These included the challenge of maintaining culture,  creativity, morale, delivering effective training and ensuring staff loyalty, among others,  in a geographically disparate workforce.

Potential changes to the structure of future pay and remuneration packages won’t be far down the line; how do you justify a company car when it is on the drive for most of the time or a London weighting allowance when an employee is working from home in another part of the country?

What is clear from our, and other, reports on the issue is that when a workforce is both an internal and, because of their actual place of work, an external audience, integrated communications that inform and engage will be essential to maintaining the culture, cohesion and camaraderie that make successful businesses tick and a shared purpose beyond profit.

In our survey, overall 92 per cent of decision makers, reported that communications priorities have changed since the start of the pandemic; 21 per cent said that they want to increase the frequency of communication, 18 per cent want to increase the use of owned media, 17 per cent want to do more social media communications and 14 per cent plan to do more PR.

Respondents also believed that communicating their “purpose” as an organisation has become more important than ever, either by reflecting it in all communications or demonstrating it in practical ways such as supporting charities and community projects. Values and purpose also have a significant impact on people strategies, with 31 per cent agreeing it makes their staff proud to work for the business and 28 per cent saying it helps with recruitment.

Businesses have faced their biggest peacetime challenge in coping with the disruptive impacts of the pandemic. Communication was at the heart of how organisations engaged with frightened and bewildered staff as well as confused and concerned customers and clients. They now need to use imagination, technology and creativity to develop new ways of engaging with their internal and external audiences.

Peter Davenport is a former CEO and the Senior Strategic Consultant with the Definition agency