It was fun in the beginning. Remote working was an emerging trend even before the pandemic, but once the first lockdown hit, the proportion of people working from home increased eight-fold. Initially there was some excitement with the novelty value of not having the morning commute, organising pub quizzes down ‘The Zoom Arms’ and the prospect of lunchtime walks with the dog.
But then the reality hit home.
Working, living and socialising with the same people in the same space is really hard. If you’re not lucky enough to have a home office, working from the kitchen table is really hard. The blur of where home ends and work begins, is really hard. I for one cannot wait to reduce my zooming.
We need to remember that ‘working from home’ and ‘working from home during lockdown’ are two completely different things, and the latter has been quite damaging for many businesses:
Presenteeism led to over-working
Because remote working for all was enacted overnight, there was no time to set expectations with people. For many employees who perhaps had never worked from home previously, there was a feeling of needing to prove they were still productive — which according to a study by LinkedIn resulted in an average of 28-hours of overtime per month.
Video conferencing fatigue
Unable to quickly pop over to someone’s desk for a quick catch-up, we’ve all resorted to the delights of video conferencing to keep in touch. But the research shows that after just 30-minutes our concentration levels start to wane, because we’re forced to focus on a screen, have reduced non-verbal cues and can’t see people when we share presentations.
Homeschooling is disruptive
Like most parents I’ve had to help my children with homeschooling while schools have been shut and it’s really distracting. You feel torn over needing to take care of your business, and needing to support their education. In one study 54% of parents admitted to finding it difficult balancing household demands while working from home.
Disconnect in the team
Our whole business is built on people, so when lockdown hit this was one thing I feared most. However hard you try, and regardless of the technology you use, you’re never going to have the same experience working from home as you would in the office. According to the World Economic Forum, 70% of businesses have struggled to maintain their culture during lockdown.
The thing S&S struggled with most…
Securing an emotional contract between new employees and the business is so important at that early stage of the relationship. Getting that onboarding process right is crucial to retaining new hires — get it wrong and a third (33%) will look for a new role within their first six months. Get it right and two-thirds (66%) are happy to stay with you for at least three years. Having built my career within the world of recruitment, hiring and onboarding our processes I feel pretty confident about.
But I screwed up.
In a scale-up business you’re always going to get some churn because the business requires different skills at different times to enable it to grow, and people are naturally drawn to new challenges. But when things were going well at S&S I rushed into hiring and made some decisions that hit our culture hard.
Of course, it didn’t help that the pandemic struck, which made it hard enough to retain company culture through a screen. But I’d put us at a disadvantage going into the first lockdown because my team wasn’t as strong as I knew it could be.
I knew I’d got it wrong. And I wasn’t afraid to ask for help. So I reached out to Angie Main, who is an organisational development coach. She helped me to develop the hiring and on-boarding processes at S&S to de-risk the possibility of making decisions that would negatively affect our culture in the future.
It wasn’t until I’d made my mistake that I realised how unique our culture is, and through Angie I’m now confident that we’ve put in place the necessary steps to protect and preserve that culture as we scale.
What happens next?
Ultimately, we’re a consultancy, which is about human interaction so we’d never move to a remote-only way of working. But with figures from the World Economic Forum suggesting that 98% of people would like the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers, it’s likely that post-pandemic most workplaces will employ a hybrid approach to work.
However, within the modern workplace I don’t think the focus will be on ‘working from home’, it will be ‘work from anywhere’.
Because S&S was born in 2016, we are fortunate to have embraced digital ways of working from the very beginning — when lockdown hit, it didn’t really stop us. But it has made us think about how we engage with our customers, and through this process it’s opened up new opportunities.
One of the things we do with new clients is an immersion experience with the executive team. Normally we’d take them out of their business and work on creating their vivid vision of the future. During lockdown, we’ve had to seek out new technologies that enable us to do virtual whiteboarding and try to deliver that same level of engagement.
I’m not saying it’s been easy, but now we’ve mastered it — to the point where we’ve completed numerous projects without ever meeting the clients face-to-face. In one of those we delivered a Scan & Go capability to a business in Saudi Arabia within 90-days. The team didn’t turn their cameras on during video meetings so we never even saw their faces.
It was hard, but it broke down geographical borders for us. We’d never considered expanding on that scale before, but in a world where everyone is working virtually, location is no longer a barrier to business. That’s been a nice upside of this pandemic.
Looking to the future
The very reassuring thing for S&S over the last 12-months is how robust our business model is. From the start we’d set out to create a business that blended digital technologies with a human touch to deliver great client experiences and it’s really helped us to thrive.
The World Economic Forum even believes that our operating model is the way that organisations of the future should be designed. It says that businesses must blend technology with a new model of management that is, “based on biological principles like experimentation and co-evolution.”
Today’s pace of change is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, and lockdown has proved that market conditions can literally change overnight. To remain competitive, businesses need the capability to continually adapt and reinvent themselves.
Find out more…
On Wednesday 21st April at 5.30pm we are hosting a webinar on the ‘Secrets of the 16%’ where our panel of experts will discuss people, strategy and leadership, and how you can affect change with each to ensure your future success.