• sbaxendale7

Of one thing I'm certain post 'C word'...

Updated: Sep 1

There’s clearly some distance to go, though any business owner is likely to be considering what normality could and should look like as vaccination numbers in Malaysia creep towards the, so called, herd immunity point (whatever that means!) This feeling has been enhanced by indications of the Klang Valley region progressing to Phase 2 of the Recovery Plan. Experience tells us not to get too excited, but there are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel - I think it’s reasonable to say.

So with co-working spaces and corporate HQs able to open their doors, depending on the sector, it’s interesting to observe how companies are seeking to approach this and my only observation is that the market is very much at the point of scratching its head!

Establishing a clear strategy around returning to normality, post a period of outright ‘office culture’ hibernation, is extremely confusing. Nobody truly knows what 'the office' will look like, though seems different people have really, REALLY strong opinions on what it should look like. There is a clear divide based on demographic, for instance, as survey data suggests more junior employees, women, and Millennials are questioning the need to return to the office more than most. Meantime, CEOs, males, and baby boomers indicate less qualms. One consistent trend, however, is nearly 50% would welcome some kind of return to the office versus less than 20% this time last year (yes it’s been going on that long!).

The truth is, there is now a great deal of work to be done to assess this so-called ‘new norm’ (yes it sounds so trite these days) that we have lurched towards. It’s quite clear many positives have emerged from this great ‘global experiment’ of recent times. Company leadership has essentially been shocked into challenging everything associated with the dogma of conducting business in an office setting as the default. In a bid to stay productive and competitive, innovation and progressiveness has risen to the top of the priority list and, as the saying goes, 'necessity is the mother of invention'.

Personally I believe a hybrid working model based on CHOICE will be the emerging successful philosophy and a shift towards embracing subjectivity rather than a ‘one size fits all’, regimented mindset. The fact is, physical office settings do serve a purpose. Whilst it may seem a rather traditionally minded, unfashionable view, the ritual of going to the office as a physical location allocated for work plays its role. The feedback from many is that they miss the ‘buzz’ of work rituals, the relationships formed and that essential boundary between work life and home life. In fact, many working from home have been complaining they have difficulty switching off and the boundary between work and family time has been compromised.

If there is one silver lining, it is the fact that a lingering need was forced open way ahead of schedule. Working from home has become less of a unionist, wacky idea and more of an actual option for companies that now don’t feel they risk bringing the businesses to its knees.

One fundamentally positive chance, is we are seeing more openness to fresh styles of leadership. Whilst I am a slightly wary of companies looking to capitalize on the new leadership mantras of being more ‘empathetic’ (the new leadership buzz word), through making empty gestures on social media (come on we’ve all spotted it), I do feel many leaders feel more validated in beliefs they perhaps held more internally, though are now more confident in asserting and formalising.

Authentic examples of this may include though are not limited to the following:

  • You hold your team up as your number 1 priority, you walk the walk and you protect them.

  • You deliberately get to know your workforce as much as possible and (within reason) at a personal level.

  • Key events outside of your team’s work life get supported, acknowledged and celebrated.

  • You personalise and denormalize your interactions with your team - meetings are not about immediately getting to the point!

  • You solve problems together and people help each other out continually.

  • There are good policies to support consistency, though there is flexibility to acknowledge the sometimes inconsistent nature of human beings.

  • You admit your own mistakes and failings and apologise openly where appropriate - we’re all on a journey and in it together.

  • There is more scope for emotional bandwidth (again within reason) and it’s OK to show a degree of vulnerability.

My point to all of this is that definitions around what the return to work will exactly look like are blurred and subjective. I don’t think anyone can claim the answers as the situation and policies in support are changing so regularly, so we just have to feel our way through with the best of intentions.

What is clear however, is that business leaders will need to raise their game in line with elevated workforce expectations and rightly so. This pandemic has proven the true value of what a loyal workforce can do for a company. So many employers now will be looking in the mirror and thinking what they owe to their loyal, determined, skilled workforce that got them through the last 18 months and into the light. Speaking as a business owner, I also feel this is relevant to how we need to strive to be in 2021 and beyond represents a shift in mindset from the default, overly regimented and quite frankly, complacent business cultures of the past.

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