The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, including where and how we work. To understand how professionals have experienced extended periods working remotely, as well as their preferences for post-pandemic work, workplace design and transformation consultancy, Veldhoen + Company, surveyed over 1,500 workers in Australia across public and private sectors. The survey was conducted from April 2020 through to June 2021.
We caught up with Veldhoen’s Managing Partner for Australia and New Zealand, Martijn Joosten, to find out what they learned, and what it means for those in the communications and PR sectors.
In “the old days” (pre-2020), people rarely worked from home. In fact, the practice was not widely encouraged and was even thought to lower productivity. When the pandemic took hold, what happened to this?
Numerous surveys showed that productivity and engagement levels improved in the immediate aftermath of the “remote working exodus”. But this was not universal - individual experiences differed, depending on factors like role type, organisational tenure, home circumstances and organisational culture, including organisational trust and managers’ ability to lead remote teams effectively.
Despite the differences in adaptation and response, it’s fair to say that the shift to fully remote fundamentally broke down some long-standing assumptions about which organisations and professions could work in “time and place independent” ways.
Did the love of and preference for working from home change as the pandemic progressed and lockdowns stretched ever longer?
I'm not sure if there was a widely felt love of enforced long-term remote working, but people do recognise its benefits! However, as the lockdowns extended, surveys began to show a growing sense of disconnect and struggles with feelings of belonging. This was particularly felt by new starters who joined organisations during the lockdown.
Are hybrid ways of working here to stay and are they changing what “the office” actually means, or the purpose it serves?
People want to retain a level of flexibility that they did not have pre-pandemic, and organisations will need to provide a range of workplace choices to support their employees. Results will differ across companies, but it appears that widespread Monday to Friday office work is a thing of the past.
That has implications for office capacity planning and design, depending on how much choice and autonomy employees will have in deciding when, where and with whom to do their work.
In broad terms, a hybrid office space should enable:
- Purpose - creating a shared community
- Variety - sufficient variety of settings to support the office workstyle
- Wellbeing - a venue that allows us to be the social creatures we sometimes crave to be, even at a social distance
- Team time - allow teams to physically come together to shift thinking away from individual focus to team focus
- Serendipity - enable unplanned interactions, rather than only scheduled voice / virtual calls
We recommend conducting a detailed analysis of employees' workstyles and taking a strategic view of the different ways of hybrid working before making any critical design decision changes to the office space.
Every workplace and approach to work is different, but there are things or types of activities that all companies do, and the pandemic has tested the “portability” of these.
Can you summarise what Veldhoen’s research found about this?
We know from the lockdowns that companies can function when employees work remotely over relatively short periods. Our research found there is a very strong preference for individual activities (planning, emailing, high concentration) to be carried out at home. Unsurprisingly, the top three activities where the office is the preferred setting are all characterised by collaboration and interaction.
These insights give us a sense about which activities are “portable”, but it is still quite early days in understanding exactly how the post-pandemic workplace will emerge.
The communications and PR industry rely heavily on collaboration, ideation, creativity and so forth. What are the key things they need to focus on to make sure a hybrid model works for them?
It’s difficult to imagine doing deep creative and collaborative activities without some in-person components, but digital solutions that enable online collaboration are developing at pace.
Take a strategic view about what the company needs to achieve. Start by understanding, in detail, the different workstyles at the company. From there, an “office workstyle” and a “remote workstyle” can be developed to help understand how and where people will do their work.
Don’t go into the process with fixed notions about what can and can’t be done remotely. Be open to what emerges.
What does the future hold for this hybrid way of working? Fad born out of necessity that will fade over time? Or inevitable destination, given changes to technology and how we use it to communicate and collaborate?
People want to retain a level of flexibility they did not previously have access to. The flexibility and adaptability that hybrid working offers can provide a competitive edge when done effectively. Organisations that are successful with hybrid ways of working gain the opportunity to attract talent in locations that was not possible to think about before the pandemic.
Hybrid working is not the purpose itself, but a way of working to help organisations achieve better outcomes, and happier and healthier people.
To quote the futurist John Scharr: “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination.”
Answers submitted by Martijn Joosten, Managing Partner for Australia and New Zealand, Veldhoen + Company