The Covid pandemic precipitated a seismic shift in white-collar workplace practices, particularly in the technology sector, and employers are struggling to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to remote and flexible working.
I’m surprised how many firms are pushing for a full return to the office. My personal view is they will struggle to attract young talent or retain staff exposed to the benefits of flexible working and its positive effect on productivity. It’s also a little ridiculous to suggest that people can only work well when co-located considering how many companies have teams spread around the world – in that context, perhaps the famed ‘water cooler’ chats were more exclusive than inclusive.
By embracing remote working we have attracted some highly skilled and motivated talent who, for various reasons, would not have joined us had they been restricted to working where we have a physical footprint, or had they been asked to work in an office.
However, offering remote employment opportunities is only a first step.
Many organisations adapted well during COVID, but this was artificial because they had existing teams with established relationships. Viewing the post-pandemic world through the lens of how a company coped with lockdown is a mistake and careful thought needs to be put into how policies, practices, tools, and behaviours must evolve to create a sustainable model.
We recently gathered our UK-based remote working colleagues for an offsite. Top of the agenda was a discussion about what works and doesn’t work with our current approach. Interestingly, despite endorsing remote working, the team was unanimous that there is value in periodic face-to-face meetings to build and maintain relationships. This is particularly true for new joiners early in their tenure – we have all experienced how meeting a colleague even once breaks down communication barriers. Organisations need to work hard to create appropriate opportunities for interaction to avoid isolation or detachment.
Another issue raised was the danger of conflating remote working and flexibility; they are two different things. Working 9 to 5 whether in an office or at home does not necessarily offer flexibility for parents with young children or staff with caring responsibilities. Obviously, we must prioritise customer commitments, but allowing teams the freedom to agree on their schedules, including a core set of hours where people can interact, was seen as contributing to a culture of trust and empowerment.
Knowledge sharing and information access become even more paramount for organisations offering remote working. Two years ago, we implemented an initiative whereby each week a team member runs an online learning session (product, technical, financial markets, etc.). The sessions are recorded to create a knowledge library for staff who can’t join live and also contribute to our training academy for new starters. Common access to all non-confidential documentation, regular town halls, mentoring and buddy programmes are some of our other initiatives, but we continue to look for new ways to promote transparency and grow collective knowledge.
Company culture and hiring strategy are also key to making remote working successful. We emphasise collaboration qualities during our recruitment process and have unfortunately had to reject highly qualified candidates who didn’t match that criterion. We look for self-starters who enjoy engaging with colleagues, want to learn AND teach, and can be trusted to get on with their work, leaving managers to focus on outputs rather than inputs.
While this might not work for all roles or all organisations, we feel there are substantial benefits for both employees and employers. I love the fact we can give people a more flexible lifestyle and we see this reciprocated by the positive attitude of our teams. We’re certainly not getting everything right and it is a work in progress, but we are committed to the path we’re taking.