After working from home and collaborating from afar, the importance of the workplace and all that it offers has become clear: an office is more than just a place to work and while some people have adapted to WFH, many people miss the office, perhaps even surprising themselves.
“The workplace drives innovation and growth and fosters culture and sense of community, while providing the tools and resources people need to be truly productive,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.
There are countless benefits to having a physical place that brings an organisation’s people together. Here are just 5 reasons why the workplace matters – and will continue to matter.
Personal and corporate growth: The post-COVID economy has ushered in a season of survival mode for companies. “But the pivot back to growth mode for people and businesses will be here soon. Growth depends on innovation, and that’s driven by people coming together to collaborate and think,” Trim said. “And dare we say it: Make sure we are better prepared for another even that disrupts business continuity.”
Further digital transformation: If companies weren’t thinking about digital transformation before COVID-19, they certainly are now. Organisations have been forced to compete and manage a range of disruptions — internal and external, domestic and global.
Says Trim:”They’re launching new business models and equipping teams to be ready for anything; digital transpiration will evolve for years to come.”
- Attract and retain talent – the workplace is a key tool to help organisations attract, retain and engage talent. Not only is space an expression of the company, it sends important cultural signals about what new talent can expect in your organisation. Is there choice and control? Are there social spaces to meet with teammates?
“While technology can help with some elements, like onboarding, it’s hard to build community and nurture the kinds of relationships needed to engage talent and strengthen teams over Zoom,” Trim notes.
- Innovation – research shows that successful innovation is typically ‘place-based’. Workplaces foster these connections and promote innovative activities like building models, sharing content, testing prototypes, iterating in real time, collecting annotations and ideas and building on the collective efforts of the team. Two-dimensional technology simply cannot move the needle like three-dimensional interactions can.
- Collaboration and connection – collaboration is a key, place-based business behaviour with demonstrable links to growth and innovation. Sharing ideas, brainstorming and bringing others along through discussion creates new concepts. Body language and other unspoken behaviours provide social cues that can be easily missed when not in person. When every meeting starts and ends on time, there is no room for the magic of serendipity. At the same time, people who don’t interact with others or participate in the workplace risk becoming irrelevant, undervalued or overlooked. “These factors don’t just impact individuals’ career paths, they impact a company’s ability to fill the talent pipeline. Having a place to create meaningful connections is more important than ever,” Trim concludes.
By Mark van Dijk for JSE Magazine
Unless you’re a front-line health worker or provided an essential service, you will have joined millions of employees around the world in working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. You’ll know the feeling of ‘Zoom fatigue’. You may have met up with friends or colleagues (virtually, of course) for ‘locktails’ and ‘quarantinis’. And you’ll certainly have enjoyed the short ‘commute’ from your bed to your desk. Chances are, despite the disruptions of the working from home – WFH – revolution, you’re as productive as you’ve ever been, even though you’re not in the office.
Apart from a handful of people who continued to go into the building as an essential service, the vast majority of the JSE’s staff worked from home through the lockdown, as JSE Group CEO Leila Fourie told the Daily Maverick. ‘I find people are working much harder,’ she said. ‘[Physical workplace] presence does not translate into productivity. Leaders [used to] have a false sense of security in employees showing up at the office.’
Fourie adds that the crisis (and, make no mistake, this was an unprecedented crisis) has unlocked a level of solidarity and unity in the team. “We’ve built a new level of trust.”
When asked if he thinks SA businesses will go back to ‘normal’ after the lockdown, media analyst Arthur Goldstuck says yes, and no. ‘One of the things that we’ll find across the different aspects of the way we live our lives – working, shopping and so on – is that part of the shift that we’ve all experienced will become permanent. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to transition into this new way in totality.’
For Goldstuck, it’s a question of digital transformation – and here he draws parallels with the move towards e-commerce. ‘A large proportion of South Africans discovered online shopping during the lockdown, and many will continue shopping online, while many will go back to traditional shopping,’ he says. ‘Those who find online shopping comfortable, convenient and quick will carry on doing it; those who found it didn’t quite work for them will go back to the old way.
‘And even within that there are nuances. Some will become regular online shoppers, while some will now be willing to shop online on occasion. It’s going to be a varied approach, depending on the person’s experience and on their openness to the technology.’
This, he explains, can be extrapolated into the working environment as well. ‘Businesses that have found it difficult to have staff working remotely will go back to the old way,’ he says. ‘But again, you’ll find that even in the businesses that do go back to the old way of working, remote will be allowed far more regularly.’
Yet many employees don’t want to make a permanent move to WFH. A nationwide survey by workplace consultancy Giant Leap found that 86% of South Africans want to go back to working in an office. Giant Leap director Linda Trim says that while remote work was very popular at first, as time wore on people realised that it came with loneliness and a lack of work-life balance.
‘The survey showed 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office, while 85% said they missed the “colleague interaction” while working at home,’ she says. To that point, about 81% of survey respondents said that working remotely made work communication harder, while more than half said they missed meeting, socialising and having ‘impromptu face time’ with their colleagues.
The erosion of company culture, then, is the biggest concern about – and the last great hurdle before – a complete move to remote working. Virtually every team that gathered together on Zoom meetings during the lockdown already knew each other and already had established relationships. Those bonds can erode over time and can be hugely difficult for new hires to build.
If – as many are predicting – the old model of Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 does indeed change to something more fluid and flexible, offices will have to change to meet those new requirements. Looking ahead, there’s the realisation that while the work may stay the same, and the workforce may adapt, some of the most interesting changes will happen in and to the workplace. Wherever that happens to be.
“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute” (Will Rogers)
Whilst many employees enjoy working from home, this is a time of uncertainty for them. They read of people being retrenched or furloughed and wonder if they are next. The isolation of working from home can fuel this uncertainty.
Yet it is these employees who daily interact with customers and other stakeholders. If staff have negative feelings about the company, this can be quickly picked up by customers. Social media can spread this quickly and suddenly management have to start undertaking damage control. Recently, an English business decided to not pay staff until the government’s wage subsidy kicked in. Following an outcry, management swiftly reversed this and paid the staff.
Contrast this with Quickbooks who kept their cleaning staff on full pay despite empty offices. L’Oreal have made a point of paying small suppliers quicker than usual.
Don’t think short term
The decisions you make send out signals to your staff and they are much more likely to view you favourably if you are showing fairness to your stakeholders.
Think also of your investors – they tend to support businesses where carefully considered long-term decisions are made by management. Don’t forget having a holistic outlook and making the environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria part of your strategies.
In a recent case, staff supported management putting them on furlough after they were persuaded by management that this was the best long-term strategy to preserve jobs in the business.
Staff are more motivated if they know they have commitment and active support from their bosses.
IBM have started a program of supporting employees who need to take out time to educate their children or look after family members. They have also encouraged their staff to raise any individual difficulties they have with their managers. Introducing this type of flexibility makes managers’ jobs harder to do and IBM have created separate online chat channels for managers to network with their peers and find solutions to employees’ problems.
Other companies with diversity in the workplace have openly supported Black Lives Matter and have made sure that when there are pay cuts or retrenchments, there is no discrimination against minorities.
The world has changed and become more uncertain and more flexible. You need to plan carefully and act to ensure you stay on top of the situation and keep the support of your staff.