Consider and elastic band. In its steady state it assumes a generally recognisable form. Sure, there is some flexibility in its shape, but most elastic bands look very similar. Let’s imagine this as the pre-pandemic normal form of work, which for most was 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, in the office.
Put an elastic band under unnatural stress and it will extend, taking on a very unnatural but temporary state, a state that can only be maintained while the stress persists. Let’s imagine that as the intra-pandemic, abnormal form of work, which for most entailed fully working from home and never visiting the office.
What happens when an elastic band is held in an unnatural form for a long period and you then remove the source of stress? It collapses back, attempting to, but never quite realising, its original form. Let’s imagine this as the post-pandemic form of work. What form that will take is on the minds of many employers, as it will have a fundamental impact in terms of how they organise teams and create stakeholder value.
First, let’s establish some definitions of work to help capture the variables of this new form:
Remote working: Working from anywhere with rare or only occasional visits to the office. This is what many third-party consultants and IT contractors have been doing for some time.
Work from home: Working from a location that is in proximity to the office (same county/city), with frequent, regular visits to the office.
Now let’s get a couple of things clear…
- Remote working, as defined, is the elastic band in its fully stressed state. It is possible to do it, but it will not be a credible, sustainable way forward for the vast majority of companies. Real value-creating activity is far less likely to be achievable remotely. Where roles are being worked fully remotely there will also need to be a separation of office location and pay levels, and a reconciliation between where the work is being done and salaries in that location, rather than at the office location. For example, paying Dublin salaries to remote employees in Sligo will not wash in the long term.
- Working from home is a far more realistic and sustainable way forward, and it’s what we predict the majority of companies will embrace. Work from home of course has its own variables, such as number of days in/out of office and the provision for home working allowances/facilities. It is variables like these that companies have an opportunity to be competitive for talent and a genuine chance to create a hybrid approach to work that can be a huge barrier to exit for existing talent.
How you organise work from home in your team will have a material impact on the make-up of your team in the long term. We have a number of recommendations around this in Barden, including the following:
- 2-2-1 approach 2 days in the office, 2 days from home if desired and 1-day flexible depending on the needs of the business. The one flexible day gives options, allowing a company to cater to the needs of the individual and to the needs of the business. That’s where competitive advantage resides.
- Organise by team rather than by location Flexibility with too many rules begins to feel rigid. If you can, hand over responsibility for organising the 2-2-1 approach to individual teams and allow them to self-organise. There is no point being in the office on your own, so good teams will naturally organise themselves in a way that brings them together rather than keeps them apart.
- Frequent (perhaps monthly) short (1-2 hours) all-hands meetings for communication of key things, for team activities and for learning and development.
If you can get the mix right for your team, people will begin to organise their life around their work differently. It will empower them to use their time to create the best value for themselves and for you. Of course, flexibility within flexibility needs trust to work, but if you don’t have trust then you probably have bigger problems to address.
Building Your Team?
Jonathan Olden is Managing Partner of Barden Cork. Reach out to Jonathan to see how he, and his team, can help you build and retain truly world class teams.