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3rd February 2021

Rekindling The Office Romance

In recent employment history, workers have campaigned for their employers to embrace home working; trusting the employee to work independently and to offer an environment that promotes work life balance and improves mental health.  Many flirted with the notion, some paid lip service while others went further; viewing the arrangement as a Golden Ticket to attract great hires, increase productivity and deliver colleague enablement and engagement.  What’s not to like? Commute times eliminated, reduced office costs and employee flexibility to go to the gym or drop off and collect the children from school.

Fast forward twelve months and the remote working reality is unfolding and it may not be quite the utopia that everyone expected it to be.  A significant part of the problem centres around the disregard for the social aspects that the workplace delivers.  Face-to-face interactions promote focus or ‘flow’ that oils the machine and keeps things moving fast; employees gain a sense of belonging that aligns them daily to the aims and objectives of the organisation.  The majority of the week is normally spent in work, so it follows that an individual’s closest friends and networks are also within the workplace.  Extended time away from these contacts will inevitably lead to some form of separation anxiety, feelings of isolation or loneliness.  It should not be underestimated that one of the key drivers for attending work is to spend time with friends, often outranking remuneration or job satisfaction.

Can video calls replace face-to-face meetings?  Any significant number of people on a call can quickly shift from a meeting to a lecture, with one dominant voice.  There is no opportunity to read body language, make interventions or make notes on a whiteboard; the experience can be awkward and some find it boring without the stimuli of the sights and sounds of the room around them.  

Undeniably, some have used home working to rekindle hobbies and interests, exercising and reconnect with their families.  On the other hand, there are also plenty of anecdotes of strained relationships, blurred lines between work and home and woefully inadequate office and technology provisions, inevitably leading to reduced mental health.

It is clear that employers need to start planning immediately for future working arrangements and accepting that the best solution is likely to be complex and will require a deep understanding of their teams individually and collectively.  

One project may be to re-evaluate “what the office stands for” and then re-design it accordingly, based on research carried out with business teams.  From a physical perspective, breaking up desks and opening up spaces to promote social, community, interactions and collaboration could pay huge dividends.  Holistically, setting projects and activities that help colleagues deeply connect with others around them may also be extremely valuable.  External support is available that can help to better understand the different personalities within your team and how best to facilitate collaborations. 

Incredible work has been carried out to deliver home working, particularly the ability to access systems and data remotely while remaining connected to other employees, and this should be retained.  However, when the time is right, overlaying the humanistic elements of the workplace presents a powerhouse opportunity to create the best of both worlds, and leverage further colleague engagement.

During the Covid-19 crisis, employers should continually assess, review and support employees that are working from home, on an individual basis.  Applying the guidance correctly to the circumstances of your business is a difficult task, but one that we can certainly help with at Lighthouse Risk Services, so please call 0300 303 5228 in the first instance to discuss.  

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