As we reflect on an entire year of lockdown, restrictions and remote work; the British public as a whole has learned some valuable lessons – professionally and personally. Whether it is learning to cherish seeing family members and friends in person or the importance of good work/life balance, the last year has been a learning curve for us all.
We asked the HR and business community to share their own reflections and learnings from the last 12 months. From reconsidering the need for a physical office to developing flexible working policies; our business and HR leaders have made a remarkable effort to accommodate the changing needs of employees that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about.
Below, you’ll find insights from business leaders, HR professionals and company founders as they share what they have learned from lockdown and the new practices they are adopting as a result of their own remote work experience.
The arrival of the pandemic and the overnight transition to remote work has led many businesses to update their flexible working policies – some have even reconsidered having a physical office entirely!
Tiffany Ratcliffe, Managing Director at Art Art Art is one business owner that has changed the way she thinks about the use cases for physical office space in light of these prolonged periods of lockdown.
“Now I think ‘work’ is an activity, not a destination. The work environment should be designed to cater for different needs but also more collaborative tasks. Then we’ve found that working from home can be used for independent focused tasks. We still have our office, but I’d certainly consider moving to co-working spaces in the future after this year.”
Clearly, moving to a 100% remote workforce with no physical office space is a huge cost-saver for businesses. Data gathered by Statistia in 2020 found that the average cost of prime office space in the UK varied from £21 to £85 per square metre per month.
CEO and Co-Founder of Hubble, the UK’s largest online marketplace for flexible office space, Tushar Agarwal shared how the workplace as we knew it is no longer relevant:
“Before the pandemic, Hubble was purely an office space marketplace—but I’m probably the only office space CEO who’s willing to say that the office as we know it IS dead. Hubble’s philosophy is that, going forward, every organisation will have its own unique configuration of working from the HQ, home and on-demand spaces—so we’re now adapting our offering to reflect this.
“We also extended our benefits to improve our remote working efforts, by giving all of our team on-demand access to hundreds of co-working spaces across the UK and selected international cities, so they could access those spaces on days they couldn’t or didn’t want to work from home.”
With so many considering smaller spaces or flexible, shared ‘WeWork’ style office space – or none at all; many leaders have chosen to invest heavily in tools and technology to facilitate remote work.
Sergio Afonso, CEO of Absolute Translations shares how his businesses have enhanced and grown their tech stack to facilitate remote working: “We have invested over £200,000 in upgrading our software and systems, which allow for more flexibility and with faster online working environments, high-level security, and better screen resolution for end-users working from home. This experience allows team members to work more efficiently and with less stress and IT issues.”
However, we mustn’t forget the importance of working environments for collaboration. Often these spaces are conducive to a working mindset, productivity and discipline, and as the lines between our professional and personal lives become increasingly blurred; many businesses are striving the replicate the in-person connections we have in the office. Meg Roundell Greene, business coach and mentor to ambitious female entrepreneurs shares this sentiment: “Having been 100% remote this year has brought up interesting new angles. Team work, and in-person collaboration between colleagues is the glue that holds workplaces together – it’s how you come up with great ideas, learn and connect. Innovation can happen as a result of a chance exchange in the corridor. We’ve lost that this year, and it’s something organisations must realise as we go into the next phase of work. How can they keep that level of camaraderie and collaboration going?”
For some businesses, remote work has always been normal. PR agency, Plain Speaking PR changed to a 100% working-from-home set up in 2016, and their entire team immediately began to reap the benefits a remote office is now bringing many businesses across the UK. Their founder Pippa Lain-Smith explains: “It has made Plain Speaking PR more attractive as an employer, and I’ve recruited brilliant senior-level PR consultants as a result. My team members have families and other commitments, and it means they can save time commuting to and from work, and spend it with their loved ones or doing the things they enjoy most. For clients, we’re more available. We have more regular contact than ever before, because we’re not constantly planning for physical meetings which take up so much time in people’s busy schedules.”
The rise of remote work has contributed to feelings of isolation, disconnect and loneliness between colleagues. Quite often, workplaces are structured environments with a defined routine where many of us thrive and enjoy the social aspect of going to work. To have this significant part of our lives pulled from under our feet has had a detrimental impact on many – especially for those that live alone, without any kind of support bubble or network.
As humans, we are social creatures that thrive on interacting with peers, colleagues and friends, so it isn’t surprising that our own research uncovered that a staggering 73% of employees miss the social interaction they have in the office. And yet, 60% of our respondents cited that their employers hadn’t introduced any new ways to keep employees connected during lockdown.
The team at Absolute Translations were accustomed to international Christmas parties, team-building events and deep connections to the company they worked for. Sergio explains how he plans to divert budgets for office space to focus on team building and engagement: “The budgets for office rent will be directed to taking staff members on work retreats, in different European countries. This will allow us to really focus on the team building, and showcasing the Absolute Translations brand, and allow staff to continue to work from home. The world has changed, and we truly believe that will never go back to exactly as it was before.”
And yet, for some businesses, the move to remote work has been challenging, as Robin Brown, Founder and CEO of Vivipins, shares: “I learned that while remote work is not always 100% effective, it’s far more effective than nothing given how many people are not suited for lockdown and working from home. I have changed my outlook on remote work, even if I haven’t implemented it simply due to the type of business we have and the fact we need to be there in person sometimes.”
Regardless of how businesses chose to operate when we return to some form of normality, many are pledging to prioritise their people, developing policies and processes that support staff in this new era of working.
North East based technology specialist in cognitive disability and mental wellbeing eQuality Solutions have pledged to continue to put their staff first with a ‘common-sense’ approach to the pandemic offering bankable hours to give staff flexibility to book impromptu time off, and anonymous loans for any members of the team who need extra financial support.
CEO Andy Gough said: “Like just about every business, we also went into crisis mode. We didn’t know where this was going or how long this was going to last. We realised fairly quickly though, that because our services would continue to be in demand, and as our work is Government-funded, we had more stability compared to other businesses and we could make strong decision quickly that would help us and our staff navigate and survive the Covid crisis.”
For many, technology has allowed businesses to thrive and maintain continuity throughout the last year. Alan Spurgeon is the founder of global digital marketing agency, Hedgehog Digital, and while his team have long relied on technology to communicate with colleagues around the world, this once-in-a-generation event has reinforced the importance of robust tools that enable remote working, communication and collaboration.
“Because we are an international business, with offices in Bedford, Cornwall and Brazil, tools like monday.com, Google Suite and Whereby have long been an integral part of our workforce, so we’ve adapted gracefully to the pandemic and prolonged remote working conditions. Working remotely has proved we don’t have to go into the same physical room in order to have an impactful, human conversation. For this reason, we’re introducing hybrid working, which allows employees to work part the week from home to cover individual projects and admin-based work, and the rest of the week in the office to complete team projects and to catch up with colleagues.”