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Flexible Work: The New Normal Or A Temporary Measure?

The number one question I hear from business leaders and people managers at the moment is “What do we need to be thinking about for a return to [normal] work”.

Clearly there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer! What and where will we even be returning to work?

Language is a powerful thing. Some people refer to what we’re doing now as ‘working from home’ and today I heard for the first time: ‘homing from work’.
On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of discussions begin this week about ‘returning to work’ which reinforces a long held bias that the office is the ‘normal’ place for work to take place and therefore whatever we are doing now is just some temporary modification. But I am willing to bet that 100% of office or site-based work is a version of ‘normal’ that is unlikely to survive untouched by this experience.

As we attempt to define where and how work will be done in the next 6, 12 or even 24 months, whose voices will be heard in the (re)design phase and what factors will be prioritised? Will it be health and wellbeing or economics? Or perhaps (because wellbeing increases productivity) we should be asking, will the thinking be driven by a long-term or short-term mindset?

Traditionally HR departments counted employees as FTE’s (Full Time Equivalents). But during this pandemic we’ve definitely learnt that the people who work for us are not economic units but in fact vulnerable human beings who show up to work within the context of the life around them. Human beings are dialling into zoom calls now with cats, dogs and toddlers on their laps and carefully curated rooms behind them (showing glimpses of how they live not seen before).

On the one hand we are connecting as work colleagues on a more intimate, personal level than ever before, but we’re also disconnected in so many ways. People are missing out on grabs of small talk in the kitchenette, on coaching tips given in the moment, and coffees in an actual cafe to dissect life events or even just MAFS!

So as we tackle this question of what will a return to work look like and what should the new normal look like, the starting point should be talking to all the people working for your organisation and listening to understand what their individual needs, concerns and preferences are. Of course, this is much more complex and slower than counting FTE’s, but this is true inclusion in action.

Companies and people leaders need to be more adaptable and inclusive than ever before. We have to do this not only because it’s the right thing to do, but ultimately companies have a duty of care to look after the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of their employees while they are at work and when we plan for a return to office or site-based work in conjunction with any continued remote work.

So as we start to plan a gradual return to office or site-based work, we all need to be thinking how do we deliver safe places, safe work and safe people. In the next of our ongoing webinar series on Managing Your Business Through a Crisis we will deep dive into this. We hope you can join us and also share your wisdom and challenges.


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