27 November 2020
Our NED roundtable yesterday generated some really interesting discussion, focussing on, amongst other things, the world beyond lockdown.
The prospect of returning to “normal” (or being free from any lockdown measures), was, until recently, a hope glimmering on a faraway horizon, but has become more of a medium term reality in light of recent developments of a possible COVID-19 vaccine.
As a result, we should be planning how to run our businesses in the new world in a way that works for employees, shareholders and other key stakeholders.
There were a few key areas of discussion:
- Generational differences in flexible working attitudes – new graduates and those with less industry experience typically have home set ups which are less conducive to working from home (eg those living in house shares / one bedroom apartments have little space to work, and may find it more difficult to separate work and home life). As a result, much of the younger workforce are keen to return to the office when they can. On the flip side, more senior personnel have adapted well to home working, and many are less inclined to work from the office than they once were.
- Skill sharing and collaboration – as a result of point (1) mentioned above, it may be much harder for less experienced hires to learn from their senior counterparts, as there is less opportunity for pair-working, shadowing, or overhearing senior conversations in the workplace that help develop additional skills and understanding. This may also stifle collaboration, as more people work in isolation, making project delivery more transactional and less of a collective effort.
- Access to seniors – in addition to a reduction in skill sharing and collaboration, reduced access to senior leaders may result in less mentoring and opportunities for promotion, as well as the risk that corporate culture becomes fragmented, with senior leadership becoming divorced from the wider workforce.
- Intra-team working – in addition to the loss of inter-team collaboration, communication and relationships across teams and departments may also suffer, with a higher prevalence of silos than ever before.
The consensus was that it’s really important for firms to think carefully about their working strategy going forwards, to ensure that they are flexible enough to retain the best talent, but provide enough face-to-face opportunities to train up the talent of the future to ensure that skills and knowledge don’t get stuck in an aging generation.
Reflecting on the discussion, some ideas to mitigate these risks include:
- Minimum number of days in the office – ensuring that there is sufficient crossover of the workforce, to better foster collaborative working practices, whilst at the same time recognising the need for greater working flexibility going forwards.
- Seniors advertising their “in office” days – to give employees the opportunity to meet with senior leaders face to face for mentoring, feedback and to discuss career progression.
- Virtual pair working – which can be achieved with some thought and proactivity, and which could help mitigate the risk of generational gaps in skills and understanding.
- Inviting juniors to more meetings – to help develop wider relationships and to expose less experienced hires to the conversations of more senior staff.
By embracing the “lockdown learnings” and evolving the way we work, we should be able to work smarter and more flexibly, and improve outcomes for all stakeholders as a result.
I’d be keen to hear from others on their thoughts the workplace beyond lockdown, and how we can we work better going forwards.