COVID has accelerated the need for business leaders to work hard to find the perfect balance of office use and WFH. When lockdowns began last year our organization’s productivity increased and our people didn’t skip a beat, because we already had the perfect remote and flexible working policy, and it is described with just one word: trust.

When we first grew our business in the US five years ago, and had just a handful of employees there, it was really hard for anyone in our UK teams to truly understand just how much we needed to flex to make sure they were successful.

Changes of working hours for UK people to work with teams 8 hours behind them almost became formal arrangements. Managers and business support functions were telling me things like “working from home should be a privilege” and “we can’t be sure people are working if we can’t see them in an office”. The idea of presenteeism was strong and I see this across a lot of businesses still, even in our industry.

So how far should business leaders go to trust their people to work remotely? What is the right balance or formula?

I’ve seen so many attempts recently:

  • 3:2 days WFH:Office or vice versa
  • Work in the office 1-5 pre-arranged times per week
  • Contractors/freelancers and people on probation must come into the office while other full-timers can WFH 100%
  • Remote first
  • Everyone will WFH 100% until July 2021 and then we’ll attempt to get back to a pre-COVID expectation

All these serve to do is put people in a straight jacket and be rigid about how flexible individuals can be…it’s a complete contradiction.

I’m sad that organizations are still adopting this attitude as it lends itself to a command and control style of operating, our industry is not that and the post-COVID world and younger workforce demands more, and why shouldn’t they?

Our people are intelligent and driven, they have careers they care about developing, skills they want to continue building and clients they feel passionate about creating amazing work for. So, taking a parent:child approach to management is not how to get the best out of them.

Having said that, some structure is a good thing particularly for graduates who are learning about the world of work and want a social life centered around the office/team, so how do you strike the right balance?

Create Your Own WorkStyle

Everyone creates their own lifestyle, for most of us it’s part routine and part flexing around what life throws at us. So why not trust your people to do the same at work? That’s why at Ledger Bennett we help people create their own WorkStyle from the moment they join us. As long as it works for your clients, your manager and you, we trust you to make the call on where, when and how you work:

What are the challenges? Well it sounds great to people when interviewing to join us but when they first start they are surprised by the lack of rules and policy, they often expect more parameters and structure and don’t always know what to do with this new found freedom. That’s where our managers come in.

Our managers are critical to helping individuals create their own WorkStyle successfully, setting out what each client needs from us and what they expect as levels of engagement with internal and client teams. As most of our clients are global and spread across multiple time zones this is a great starting point, individuals can then overlay their lifestyle and personal and professional goals to find that all important sweet spot.

As business leaders in a post-COVID world we have to work hard at not controlling when and where people work, but help them engage with each other, their clients and the business while achieving their life goals too. This is a broader culture play, one that isn’t easy to get right all the time and certainly isn’t a one size fits all, that’s why companies that mandate one working structure for everyone risk alienating talent that struggle to conform in a post-COVID WorkStyle.

The Role of the Office in 2021

When you went back into your offices and turned the lights on again after lockdown, did you think that lots of hotdesks and small meeting rooms that used to have a constant churn of people moving through them looked so ‘pre-social distancing’ it made you shudder?

I certainly did! But not only for that reason.

The hustle and bustle of an office comes with reduced productivity alongside the advantages of collaboration and culture. I spoke to a lot of our people about what they had learned from extended WFH during lockdown and the big ticket items were:

1. It’s possible to get so much more done at home without interruption. Post-COVID people who never managed to WFH effectively before have now realized the benefits when they need to focus and be productive.

2. They missed the people they work with and the social side of the office culture, and why wouldn’t they – it’s a blast!

3. Everyone has found ways to collaborate but we’ve all realized that there are times when being in the same place together just helps the ideas flow

So fast forward to 2021 and beyond, offices need to pull people back in from the new routine they’ve created at home and the old set-up isn’t going to cut it. More space dedicated to collaboration and more time dedicated to socializing is what we are setting up for our post-COVID world.

If an office is no longer about presenteeism then what is it about?

Our people tell me it’s to bounce ideas and banter, to get energy and motivation from each other. If you need to focus you’ll WFH and if you need to connect to each other, ideas and great coffee or beers after work, you’ll be excited to get into the office.

When People’s Lifestyle Changes

I was once told that as a leader you should understand what your people want and need and, as that changes as they go through life, being able to support the changes in their personal circumstances where possible builds trust and loyalty.

That’s one of the key reasons we created our WorkStyle approach.

When people find their personal circumstances changing, we are ready to help them flex their WorkStyle too and to accommodate those changes as much as possible. As long as the needs of clients and managers are met we give maximum flexibility and autonomy to our people.

This was a huge enabler for us to grow our business globally over the last five years and will be ever more important to attracting and retaining great talent post-COVID.

So the perfect remote working policy is to not have one at all and embrace the ultimate flexibility, based on TRUST. It’s only possible with great managers and leaders to support teams to find their sweet spot within this model and make it a huge positive.

It’s not for everyone, some people want a lot more structure and struggle to manage their careers and skills development without more a centralized and traditional HR or business support function. But increasingly we are fishing in a talent pool full of younger generations who want more freedom to blur the lines of Lifestyle and WorkStyle.

As for me, I no longer have working late in the office or being stuck on the commute as a legitimate excuse to not go to the gym but I’m working on a new one!