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It is finally June 2021. For those in the UK this means that we are getting closer to the important June 21st date where the government aim to remove all domestic Covid-19 restrictions. On the first of June it was reported that we have had the first day since the start of the pandemic without any Covid deaths.

It is not yet 100% certain that the restrictions will be lifted this month, there could still be delays, but this is the ambition and it is likely that even if this deadline is missed then it will not be pushed back much further. We are nearing the end of a very dark tunnel.

The problem for HR executives across the nation is, what happens now?

When we entered the first lockdown every office-based professional worker went home and stayed there. We have all become very familiar with tools like Slack, Zoom, and Teams in the past year. These tools have done an amazing job and many people have reported increased productivity and a better work/life balance as a combination of not commuting and having more control over their working hours.

Forbes recently reported that 83% of employees at a leading Fortune Global 500 consulting and processing services company now want a permanent hybrid working model where they can work from home whenever it is convenient. This could be as simple as meaning that any day without meetings can be scheduled at home. People are asking employers to maintain the flexibility.

It might take some time to get everyone commuting again anyway. As of May 5th, 2021, office occupancy over in New York was at just 16.3% and people working there can already go to their office if they want to. CEOs are sitting in empty offices asking their team to actually visit the office again.

Some major companies have embraced the flexible ‘work from anywhere’ approach. Salesforce has announced a permanent flexible working strategy and this is a company with the tallest office building in San Francisco. Likewise, Spotify and Twitter have all made similar announcements.

Many of these companies do look like high-growth tech companies and I think that this can be read in different ways. Innovative high-growth companies are usually early adopters of social change, so perhaps what we are seeing now from California is what will be expected from most HR departments in a couple of years. The ‘new normal.’

But it is not just the tech bros embracing a flexible approach to work location. When the FT approached twenty companies in the UK earlier this year and asked about their long-term plans almost all said that they were in the process of designing flexible location policies. This includes banks – from the traditional to new as Lloyds, NatWest, and Revolut all reported a desire to build a more flexible future. PwC, Aon, Virgin Media, Centrica, and The Very Group (Littlewoods) all repeated the same ambition, so this is now clearly a major change across most industries and not just a trend within tech.

Supporters of the office claim that the serendipity of water cooler conversations are helpful for ideas and innovation, but even this claim is not supported by researchers at Insead who found that most office workers actually feel quite lonely and only ever build superficial relationships with their colleagues.

The truth is that the culture of your organisation plays a big role in how your people feel at work – whether they are in the office or at home. You can create a much stronger work culture with closely bonded remote team members or an unproductive office culture with transient team members. It is not where people work, it is how you design the tasks and culture that matters far more.

But right now, HR managers will be planning a transition. I would like to suggest a few simple points to think about:

  • Do not rush: decide your own deadlines within the government guidelines. There is no rush. Your team is probably performing a great job right now so do not create any cliff-edge where they need to suddenly change. Even when it is possible to change, some in your team may be wary of public transport or crowded commuter journeys. Some may even have moved away from the city.
  • Involve your people: some people love working from home and some hate it. Ask everyone what they would like to do in future and involve everyone in the decision-making process about how your work anywhere polices will evolve.
  • Consider new ideas: some companies may want to look at new ideas instead of just managing this as a binary question of home or office. What about buying some WeWork or IWG membership cards that allow people to use city centre offices as and when needed? Also, does work from anywhere literally mean anywhere? What if some of your employees suggest spending 6 months in a different country, but still working the same hours? Are you ready to truly embrace work from anywhere?

One thing that all HR professionals need to remember is that the crisis was last year. We are now in recovery. In 2021 we have an opportunity to rebuild work. There are many variables and options, but it is an exciting professional opportunity to truly embrace the work/life balance that has eluded so many for so long.

Emma Crowe is Executive Director for Human Capital, EMEA at TTEC and is responsible for delivering Human Capital and Talent Acquisition strategies across the region. Emma holds an EMBA from Cardiff Metropolitan University and is passionate about developing high-performing teams and creating a culture where people can thrive. Emma brings a wealth of global experience, holding senior positions in organisations in both the CX and professional services industries including DXC Technology and Conduit Global and is a board member on the Welsh Contact Centre Forum.

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