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To return or not to return? That is the question

It’s difficult to escape the countless articles and provocative headlines about returning to the office (or not, as the case may be). Some businesses say their employees will never step through the office doors ever again. Others believe that office culture is king, and their staff will be back at their desks as soon as it’s safe.

Working from home: What happens next?

One thing’s for sure; it’s a hotly debated topic. Despite how strong either camp may be in their assertions, is there really one ‘right answer’? I think not.

Overall, office-based workers adapted amazingly well to working from home. It wasn’t ideal for everyone though, particularly those navigating their way through home-schooling or for anyone working from a bedroom in shared accommodation. Even so, the mass move to home working, achieved practically overnight, was a remarkable feat. Here we are, some 15 months later, with many still at home, continuing to deliver.

But, doing it forever? Well, that’s another matter and one that needs careful consideration. CIPD’s report on Working from Home highlighted the need for employers to “be aware of the differences between ‘standard’ and COVID-enforced homeworking”. There’s a big difference between the two.

Remote working: The good, the bad and the ugly

Many of CPM’s people work remotely, outside of an office environment. For the most part, wherever possible, they have continued to do so throughout the pandemic, and much appreciation goes out to them. But we also have offices across seven markets, so the future of ‘office work’ has of course been a topic of some healthy discussion and debate.

Working from home has had its advantages. It’s allowed for flexibility around childcare, it’s given us an opportunity to care for parents and other dependents. It’s also provided us with a bit more time for self-care, or let’s face it, doing the chores we’d have otherwise had to fit in another time. There were many different upsides for a lot of us. Some of these were related to working from home, but some were more about having a little more flexibility in working hours.

But what about the downsides? Productivity may have increased (productivity not to be confused with creativity), but was this at the cost of taking breaks and knowing when to sign off? Were fewer distractions at home a positive (when kids were back at school, of course), or did we feel more isolated and out of touch?

What did we lose that we craved or didn’t even notice we’d missed? Perhaps it was the ‘last night’s TV chat’ before getting down to business. Maybe it was the ability to have an impromptu conversation over a desk to solve a problem, or the satisfaction of being in a meeting room with your team and a flip chart working through a new idea, or just passing someone on the stairs you’d been hoping to see. Some people simply missed a comfortable, fit for purpose space in which to work. The list goes on.

The future of work: CPM's priorities

So, what should the future of work look like? Here’s what I think’s important:

  1. Doing what’s right for our culture. It’s a well-used phrase, but CPM is a people business. Achieving together and culture is key.

  2. Working out how to keep hold of the great and important benefits of working together whilst retaining some of the flexibility we’ve experienced during the pandemic.

  3. Not fixing on a rigid path. We absolutely need to have a considered strategy, but no one knows what the perfect solution looks like post-pandemic. There needs to be room for review, feedback, trials and some flex in our approach. We all (business leaders and our teams alike) need to keep an open mind. We shouldn’t assume we can simply ‘go back to normal’, nor should we think it’s either that easy or beneficial to keep things as they’ve been during the pandemic. We haven’t fully implemented a hybrid model before, so if the future does become a mix of office and working from home, we will need to review how that works for everyone concerned.

  4. Making some central directional decisions and, at the same time, giving local teams some scope to work through flexible arrangements that will allow them to deliver in the best way possible, as a group. This can’t just be about individual personal preference in isolation.

The perfect solution? Putting people first

Change when it’s thrust upon all of us (yes, thank you COVID) is arguably easier to navigate than when we need to find our own path. Finding the perfect solution to the future of work is not something for which there is a fail-safe blueprint. This is a people thing, so it’s bound to be complicated!

We are all unique with our own circumstances, preferences and perspectives, and the only way forward is to find an approach that works for our clients, our stakeholders and our people.

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