How will you return to the office?

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Our offices are in a constant state of change. Typewriters were replaced by PCs and laptops. Traditional office environments evolved to encompass hot-desking, remote working and virtual meetings. It seems only natural that core working hours would change too.

Mothers with school-age children have always strived to juggle their working hours. In almost three-quarters of families with dependent children, the women – 4.9 million of us in the UK – have returned to the office as working parents.

And yet although the number of working mothers has risen by more than a million since records began in 1996, flexible working has remained a sticking point.

From my own experience, returning to the office as a working parent, I applied for part-time hours numerous times. But I was repeatedly turned down on the grounds that the organisation didn’t believe it was possible to do my job in fewer than 5-days a week.

When the average worker is only productive for about 3-hours during an 8-hour day, it seems nonsensical to believe people must be chained to their desk from 9-5 to get the best from them. 

Change your ‘office’ hours

One positive to emerge from the pandemic is a change in attitude towards traditional working practices. At the beginning of the first lockdown, 82% of managers were concerned that remote working would lead to reduced employee productivity. In reality, remote workers clocked up an incredible 28-hours of monthly overtime

Even before Covid struck, just 16% of employees preferred working 9-5 office hours. It’s probably unsurprising that the vast majority of employees enjoyed the opportunity to work from home during lockdown, because they’ve been able to manage their time better. 

In commuting time alone, we’ve recouped an average of 5-hours per week – time we can enjoy with our families, take care of our own mental health and wellbeing, get our heads down into some deep work or even dedicate time for professional development.

As more of us return to the office, the big question is: how should you juggle your employees’ new found freedom and the desire for flexible working arrangements, with what’s best for the business and your customers?

Change your mindset 

We need to stop thinking about people in terms of a ‘workforce’ and instead look at them as individuals. Every person brings different strengths and skills that benefit our businesses. But as leaders, we must recognise that they exist within a much broader ecosystem. Outside of the office, your employees have a personal life, families, friends, hobbies, interests…

We need to embrace the individual’s whole self to know how to give them what they need to bring their best self to work.

So where do you start?


Understand individual needs

While your people may not be bought into the bigger corporate mission, they do have a micro-purpose. For me, it was important that I could be the mother I wanted to be while having a fulfilling professional journey – leaving the office for school pick-up didn’t mean I was any less committed or capable of doing my job. 

As leaders, we need to know what motivates our people and when they work best so we understand how to engage them. We also need to know what an individual’s strengths are, so we can pull them in to support us at the right moment. As well as recognise areas where they struggle so we can support them through coaching and mentoring.


Stay focused on the overall vision

In addition to engaged employees, we also need to maintain perspective and remember what we are trying to achieve overall. As leaders, we must retain focus on the bigger picture so the business doesn’t become distracted by office politics, pet projects or initiatives that don’t add value.

My colleague Adrian elaborated on this when he talked about how a good leader has the ability to articulate change through a vivid vision. To make change meaningful, leaders must provide clarity and detail about what needs to happen and why, and inspire individuals to want to be involved by making change relevant to them.


Encourage teamwork

‘Collaboration’ is perhaps one of the biggest buzzwords at the moment. But I prefer to think of collaboration within the context of a sports team. Every sports team is there to win games, exercise and have fun. You have a coach to lay down the strategy, the rules of the game to abide by, and then the equipment they need to play the game – like a field and a ball.

As leaders, we are the Coach. We need our team to know what the game plan is. We need to know when to bring certain people into play. We need to know when to step in to offer support, and when to get out of the way. And we need to reward and recognise appropriately so the team feels happy to play on. 

Get in touch

If you’re currently thinking about how you return to the office, get in touch to discuss how to reimagine your modern workplace. 

Get in touch.

Jacqueline Shakespeare
Written by Jacqueline Shakespeare
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