We have seen, firsthand, how UK SMEs, the education sector and larger organisations responded to the UK lockdown in 2020. There was a huge determination to continue, survive and sometimes even thrive. Where possible, companies were hugely adaptable, found new lines of business and bought forward investment in IT and comms to boost remote working capabilities.
As we look forward in 2021, UK business needs to start making plans for recovery NOW. Any plan clearly needs to be agile, but it also needs to have an eye on the next two to three years, not just the next quarter.
The current lockdown measures are restrictive for all but provide an opportunity for business to plan for a return, to a new look workplace and to ‘Build Back Better’.
1. Agree a company new ‘Way We Work’ Policy
Agree a company policy on how your business wants its employees to operate and work. Flexible working is here to stay. While some employees prefer working from home, much of the workforce wants to get back into the office for commercial, development and social reasons.
To make a hybrid remote/office working model effective, take the time to work out a policy that meets management and employee expectations in terms of engagement, productivity and a healthy home/work balance. For instance, it needs to be clear how many days per week employees should be in the office. Leaders need to introduce fair ways of measuring productivity, managing and developing staff and nurturing a healthy company culture.
2. Communication and collaboration
Effective communication and collaboration drives the success of any business. It certainly drives creativity. With a reduced opportunity for the spontaneous exchange of ideas within the office, having the right protocols and tools in place that make collaboration easy and more natural, should be a priority.
Protocols: Clearly define what face-to-face meetings staff need to be in the office for and agree what sessions can be run remotely. At Excalibur, we have found some teams prefer to be in the office on the same days each week, so they can catch up, solve any problems and set the agenda for work that can best be done at the home.
Toolkit: Update collaboration equipment used by employees in the office and home. Offices will need big screens and decent cameras in meeting rooms and employees will require quality headsets and access to Teams on their devices.
Cloud Based Multimedia: Cloud based comms applications have created a fluid and cost-effective communications environment for business. They offer a huge range of multimedia options for corporates to use, from; voice, ‘chat’ platforms, email, text and video through to creating group meetings (Teams, Sharepoint, Microsoft 365).
Connectivity: Usage of the internet has doubled in the last year. Luckily the network carriers have not only coped but actually been upgrading as well. It is a great time to transition to full fibre, which is now becoming commercially feasible for almost all firms. However, consideration needs to be given to the Home office of your staff – are the speeds good enough and does the employer help with the cost?
3. Retire the ‘Old Tech’ and plan the future
Coming out of this crisis firms now need to firstly retire some ‘old tech’ that they have been clinging onto – examples include Desktop PC’s; fixed phones sitting on desks; server rooms with limited back up and staff using their own mobile phone to handle sensitive data. Secondly, you need to commit the time to building a roadmap for the future and a transition to the cloud. Please resist the temptation to limp back into the office and try and recreate the ‘old way of working’.
The hybrid working model of ‘part office – part home’ is here to stay and businesses now need to provide the right overall operating model to support this. It is not just about having the right tools but also a rethink of how firms manage and lead their staff. Managing remote teams well has always been a challenge for many, but it is now a tangible goal for an increasing number of firms.
Now is certainly the time to demonstrate business confidence and plan for the UK recovery. The way we work has already changed and will continue to evolve. Businesses of all sizes must look ahead, through a two to three years lens, and examine how best they can manage the transition to a full hybrid ‘new look’ workplace. With the right planning and investment in IT/communications, company policies and management protocols, businesses will be match fit to leverage the predicted economic upturn.
Peter Boucher has been a Non-Executive Director of Business West since 2019.