Tackling a return to the office – or ditching the commute entirely!
Having spoken to a number of business leaders over the last few months, I have found it extremely interesting how businesses are going to tackle returning to the office.
The strategies vary BUT what seems to be a common thread is that the home will be used for focused work and the office for collaborative work.
It made me think back to how I felt when I had my first taste of working from home full time, and then being told to come back the office full-time 5 days a week. The year was 1997…
My NTL team had the whole of London as our territory – we only had to go to HQ Farnborough Aerospace Centre once a week on a Friday afternoon for a sales meeting (I still cannot see how being in a sales meeting at 6pm on a Friday 2 hours from home was motivational!). However, deployment strategies (Luton phone numbers for central London businesses – wow!) hadn’t been totally thought through so we were asked to come back on-net, and this meant travelling from Clapham to Farnborough every day; needless to say it didn’t last long. But I am a great believer in everything happening for a reason – 6 months later I started my first business and haven’t looked back since.
I completely appreciate that WFH full-time doesn’t suit every business nor every person. For some where they work is a status symbol, the plush office, the quality of the gym nearby, they socialise in that area and only use their home as a base. It doesn’t suit every job role, or where people are in their career, particularly if they need training and mentoring; albeit newcomers could benefit from a tailored, well-structured online training library to immerse them in the culture and right ways of doing things – rather than picking up bad habits of more seasoned colleagues. It really is horses-for-courses.
WFH in the pre-covid world was often saved for Fridays and seen as a bit of a skive… well by some bosses anyway. What Covid has shown us of course is that we can, and will, WFH in an effective and productive way; particularly as cloud technology enables us to do so whilst remaining secure, compliant and collaborative.
How has SynergyGroup tackled this dilemma?
We monitored productivity
We monitored customer satisfaction
We monitored our teams’ happiness and mental health
We did this over a prolonged period of time and, of course, continue to do so on a regular basis.
We tested fully-WFH three weeks before lockdown on 23rd March 2020 to ensure we could operate as a business with no one in the office to ensure we could support our customers to do the same when lockdown came.
As we monitored our business metrics – KPIs, NPS scores, CX calls etc – the feedback from our team surprised and delighted us! The team were excited to be WFH. Many were delighted they weren’t getting stuck on the M25 several times a week, they enjoyed more time with their families or took up new hobbies – they really made use of that commute time and money. We discussed it all on our weekly Teams calls and we promoted open honest discussion to ensure everyone had the platform to speak freely.
After eight weeks of positive reports we took the decision to formally explore making the shift to WFH on a permanent basis – i.e. go to a fully distributed workforce. Taking into account the cloud-based managed services SynergyGroup offers, it felt a bold move but a great opportunity to eat our own dog food you might say!
We finalised the assignment of our offices in December 2020; retaining meeting facilities in three Central London locations for when we are able to meet face to face again.
Here’s a great TED Talks video to recommend you: ‘Why working from home is good for business’ by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of Automattic – WordPress. I found it fascinating that a business the size of Automattic (800 employees across 67 countries at the time of recording) would build its business model around the team being employees, some of whom, who would never visit the office.
The key take-aways for me were:
Centralising all of your company data for all to access
Ensuring all decisions were taken equally between those in the office and those working remotely
All decisions communicated clearly to all stakeholders to ensure no one felt left out. This avoids a two tier system of those in the office being more important than those outside of the office.
Whilst complete autonomy felt a bit too Californian for Synergy; offering the team continued flexibility to do what they enjoyed and benefited from during lockdown (family, gym, walks, appointments, hobbies etc) remains one of the cornerstones of our culture.
Microsoft SharePoint is a good secure central, cloud-based, repository for all your documents by the way!
As we embrace these new ways of working we will need to be careful to include stakeholders equally, one practical idea for achieving this which I quite liked was to have everyone join the Teams call separately even if they are sat in the same room, to allow external stakeholders to have the same connectivity experience as those in the board / meeting room. Makes sense to me, no one likes feeling ganged up on, or left out; particularly if you are a new or junior member of the team.
Another point which I found really interesting was the idea of widening your gene pool for finding the best talent for your business at a price you can afford; having had businesses on the North London border for the last 20+ years we have always found it a challenge to compete with the bright lights of London. A fully distributed workforce overcomes this in an instant; you can place your job ads for parts of the country where salaries aren’t as high as London, and really double down on the benefits that “Working From Home Full Time All The Time” (as our Job Ad tag line states). There is a huge pool of talent of people who are fed up with the cost, time and health concerns the commute can take and are comfortable to take a little bit less in salary in return for having that extra money but more importantly quality of life that WFH can bring.
Taking the distributed ‘work from home full time all the time’ discussion one step further, technology giants such as Microsoft produce a wealth of Modern Workplace tools which are focused on users with challenges around Vision, Hearing, Neurodiversity and Mental Health. So is it is quick, easy and a minimal cost to empower users with these difficulties to be part of an inclusive workplace; and in return your business has another pool of amazing talent from which to choose.
As we continue to recruit from all over the UK, we feel it is incredibly important to ensure we make our guys as comfortable and efficient as possible. Therefore we offered everyone a list of items to make their WFH experience as productive as possible; whilst also taking into account we are asking them to put work items (not always the most attractive) into their homes!
Help the team create their ideal space, simple things such as a desk that fits the space they have available, a comfy chair, new laptops, headsets, screens, even a new broadband connection, paid for by us, so that we are not impacting on the family’s bandwidth!
The results were amazing – happy team, happy clients, happy ship!
Long may it continue.
Where are you on this journey?
What is the right solution for your business and your team?