The term ‘office worker’ once lazily defined a vast spectrum of the region’s employees. Now, it’s a label set to fade away as how ‘office workers’ add value to their businesses has evolved beyond recognition.
In the week most government restrictions fell away – including the government decree to work from home where possible - Business West and Lloyds Banking Group brought together business leaders to share learnings and take discussions on the future of workspaces to the next level.
As we continue to navigate uncertainty, it was reassuring to hear the region’s businesses finding consensus. Businesses who all went into the pandemic with different experiences of remote and flexible working all quickly mobilised to make things work; all recognised there were incredible benefits but real challenges to remote working; and no one planned to go back to the way it used to be.
A hybrid future
Discussions on what the future might look like went beyond the new buzzword of ‘hybrid’. Businesses recognised that ‘hybrid’ means different things to different people and this presents an opportunity to improve the workplace – for individuals, teams and organisations.
Whilst some people now see the workplace as purely a place for collaboration, it’s clear there are still some – particularly those whose home working options are less than ideal – who’d welcome a desk and a place to work away from their bedroom, young children or the cat.
Business leaders were cognisant to this key challenge of creating a way of working that accommodates these differing preferences as well as their businesses.
How we get there
Many businesses had kept the option to work from the office open when it’s been allowed for those who needed it. Lessons from those experiences are proving valuable in shaping future approaches.
Many had learnt that for those who missed the excitement of the office, it was rarely the office itself that people yearned for but the interactions with others, the hustle and bustle of town and city life and that impromptu coffee with a co-worker. Those things require a critical mass. Some reported employees had readily returned to the office only to find that working from their bedroom was actually preferable to walking past quiet high streets and closed coffee shops to sit on their own at a bank of desks.
This highlighted the importance of flexibility and patience. Unlike how this all began, we won’t solve this challenge overnight, especially as people’s lives and the places where they live and work were yet to return to anything near normal.
More and more organisations were prioritising colleague wellbeing before last March. The pandemic has only increased the importance businesses place on people even at a time when doing so remotely made it so much trickier.
As businesses find their new normal it was clear that wellbeing would remain a priority and be central in decision making on how people worked.
We know we need to travel less. Those heady days at the beginning of lockdown where the roads emptied helped remind us the car wasn’t everything. Now people are moving again business leaders recognised concerns about using public transport meant increased car use.
It was pointed out that whilst this was understandable, businesses had a responsibility to help communicate the great strides taken by the region’s transport companies to keep their networks safe. Similarly, businesses need to help staff take advantage of the changes we’ve seen to our walking and cycling infrastructure.
The business community recognise their role in tackling climate change, and it had not gone unnoticed by those in attendance that less commuting was of course better for the planet. Undoubtedly this will only grow as a factor influencing the way we work.
It will be many years before the new definition of ‘officer worker’ truly emerges but employees can take comfort in the leadership shown by Business West, Lloyds Banking Group and all of the business leaders who joined this roundtable. None underplayed the challenge, but all were clear on the opportunity to improve things for people, the planet and businesses.