Has working from home changed the office environment forever?

We are reflect on how we have adapted to working from home and the technology that has supported us through the last 12 months.

As we think about returning to the office, we are reflecting on how we have adapted to working from home and the technology that has supported us through the last 12 months.  It all felt rather clunky when we started, because moving from 200 people in a close contact setting to remote working was a big task! However,  we have worked together and adapted really well to our new ways of working, thanks to some great management and of course, technology.  Pre-pandemic, we were very much a culture of actually being in the office and seeing each other, chatting to each other as we made a drink in the kitchens and saying ‘hi’ as we went around the building.

Balancing tech infrastructure and company culture

For us, using Microsoft Teams has worked well, but it doesn’t quite match up to seeing someone in person. For those of us who are social creatures (which is a lot at CNG), there’s been a real sense of loss about the ability to see some colleagues face-to-face and have the chance to catch up. Working remotely means we’ve all found it harder to dedicate that time to catching up, whether that’s because of video call fatigue, or simply a sense that we must over communicate and be present as much as possible.

Putting health first

As a business we have worked hard to consider the wellbeing of all our colleagues and we have promoted taking breaks to catch up with colleagues, encouraged people to go for a walk at lunchtime, to get away from their desks and to attend the HIIT and yoga sessions we have put on for them, of course via Teams!  Our quarterly engagement surveys, designed to ‘check the pulse’ of how people are feeling, have confirmed people have appreciated the flexibility of their new working life, but that many have missed the contact.  We’ve continued to push and improve access to varied employee benefits, including mental health support as we know that our teams all have rich lives outside of work too.

What has changed and what will stay the same as lockdown eases?

In our new, evolving world we want to take the positive things we have learnt and some of the things we know have been good for us in the past, to move into a new world of hybrid working.  This means we want to retain the flexibility which has been so well received over the last twelve months, because our teams have proven that work built around their lives can be equally as productive and increase their wellbeing. We have asked our colleagues what they might like to do as we return and we have had a mixed response.  Some people definitely want to get back to the office full time, we have had people in the office all the way through the pandemic, some as their home environment wasn’t right for them to work in, some to help their mental health. Some want to work from home all the time and the majority want a hybrid.

We are busy working on what this means for us and how we can make this work, with ideas about collaboration days in some areas, ‘meeting days’ and so on, we will be keeping the hygiene protocols that have been so vital to all of us, so the hand gel and washing of hands is here to stay.  We know not everyone who wants to return will return until they have been vaccinated and of course that’s fine too.  There is a feeling of anticipation and that we are slowly getting back to normal, or a new normal as it is being described by many commentators!  We think we need to trial it all to see how it works for us and what it means for our fun and lively culture; of course the key to this will be to continue to engage with all our colleagues and keep them up to date as we make our first moves towards returning to the office.

One thing we know for sure, is that many of the concerns, trepidations and challenges of how we would function remotely, were quashed by the success of our continued efforts and hard work of our teams. The now old constructs of office based working being the most productive, successful  way to run every business have been dismantled and we recognise the value of tailoring our environment and our offering (even more) to the needs of our people. A more flexible future awaits, but the same passion for service, wellbeing and productivity remain!

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