What Are the Benefits of a More Flexible Office Culture?

There's been so much debate throughout the pandemic, speculating on the post-Covid world of work from home culture. Will offices become redundant? Will we all communicate via video call in the future? Will we ever meet again? And, will that translate further into a more consultant-led, freelancer approach to employment? 
The likelihood is that, depending on the specifics of your business, a hybrid approach will emerge in most organisations based on a combination of customer needs and employee values. For CEOs and their leadership teams keen to do the best thing for their bottom line while attracting top talent (or at least avoiding a mass exodus of staff), the key is developing a business strategy for more flexible office culture.

Developing a business strategy for the modern work environment

On balance, the enforced work from home culture fostered during 2020-21 has been a success. "The productivity metric is proving that remote work is working," said Erik Bradley, chief engagement strategist at Enterprise Technology Research, in an article on Forbes predicting that the percentage of workers permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021. 
The same article noted that business leaders are already paving the way, as Twitter, based in San Francisco, tells employees that they can work from home indefinitely. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook has said at least half of Facebook's 50,000 employees would be working from home by 2030.
For many businesses, the last year has forced an inevitable change. For those who had been working from home and mastering the art of Zoom calls pre-pandemic, it's like watching the world have a lightbulb moment. However, few changes ever emerge without pain points. Much like Kindle didn't do away with printed books, remote working doesn't mean that going into an office or meeting in person is null and void.
Some jobs clearly can't be done remotely, and therefore present little new decision making for CEOs and employers. However, it's the grey areas that create the need for a strategy that's in line with business success, representing today's employees' work/life values and recognising the strengths of the tools and options we have at our fingertips.

Choosing which roles and functions benefit from remote working

A report by McKinsey, analysing 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries, has predicted that it's likely 20% of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. In broad terms, assuming day-to-day tasks weren't location-specific, functions such as information gathering and processing, communicating with others, teaching and counselling, and coding data are theoretically suited to remote working.
They categorised their data and found that activities with the highest potential for remote work included:
  • Updating knowledge

  • Learning

  • Interacting with computers

  • Some creative thinking such as digital design

  • Strategic discussion and communication

  • Some information processing

What's the role of in-office meeting and working

Where remote working became less effective (unsurprisingly), collaboration was more important. It was also a non-starter where specialised machinery is needed (such as medical environments), location-specific roles, and functions like delivery. McKinsey noted that although some tasks can be done remotely in a crisis, employers have also found that they are more effectively done in person - for example, counselling. 
In speaking to fractional CMO colleagues, we would suggest that team bonding and some training are less effective or impossible in a remote environment. For example, while attending a seminar can be done effectively online (assuming an individual has the proper connectivity), something like a surgical skills course or the osmotic learning process by example, typical in The City, cannot. McKinsey also used the example of courtrooms, saying: 
"Courtrooms have functioned remotely but are unlikely to remain online going forward out of concern for legal rights and equity—some defendants lack adequate connectivity and lawyers, and judges worry about missing nonverbal cues in video conferences."

The grey areas to consider in your business strategy

There are some less obvious issues that business leaders need to consider as well. What about the individuals who don't work well in a home environment? What about keeping people motivated between those in-person interactions. What about the mental health of those who struggle to be on their own if they live alone? To what extent will these factors impact you and your company, and to what extent are they your responsibility? McKinsey also raised this issue where remote work has risk factors such as accentuating inequalities at a social level.
There's no right or wrong answer to most of these areas, and the way you handle them may evolve as society and technology continues to change. However, we have learned in the last year that remote working is highly effective in many areas, but it raises benefits and challenges that we may not have considered. Rather than being an either/or situation for most businesses, it serves as an additional option for business leaders to add into their recruitment, management and strategic arsenals. It allows organisations of all shapes and sizes to tap into a fractional talent such as a CMO or a CEO Whisperer.

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