WTF is a digital HQ?

Pandemic-induced lockdowns forced many industries to dial up their digital capabilities rapidly. However, thanks to the marvels of technology, we learned that communication and collaboration were possible without being physically present with colleagues, even if “you’re on mute” was an all-too-familiar refrain.

But now that most businesses are firming up their post-pandemic strategies, with numerous organizations around the globe opting for a hybrid-working model, how can leaders strike the right balance between in-office and remote work? 

In a digital-first, post-pandemic world, the physical office is no longer the key place that people connect, it could be argued. Could the answer be a futuristic-sounding digital headquarters with no proximity bias, where communication is transparent and the culture thrives? What many are referring to as a digital HQ?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in June 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

Badly managed return-to-office plans will fuel a ‘well-being crisis’ doctors warn

Doctors are lining up to warn U.S. and U.K. business leaders that they face a “well-being crisis” if they fail to improve the mental health support for employees returning to the office.

While people’s mental health has suffered in general over the past two years, the return to office is adding some new stressors to the mix. Employers must respond in kind, and actively listen to staff in order to provide the right support, or they’ll risk a backlash, say health experts.

A Slack-commissioned study of 1,000 knowledge workers in the U.K., launched in May which is Mental Health Awareness month, revealed that 73% of employees have experienced exhaustion in the last year. And almost half (49%) of respondents highlight associated costs with office working, such as travel and food, as stressors — at a time when 87% of British adults are reporting a rise in their cost of living, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in May 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

Fast-track to remote-first success: Experienced experts reveal their tips so others can accelerate their journeys

When Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky unveiled the company’s remote working policy at the start of May, in only 105 words, there was much to admire about its boldness and simplicity. However, one detail concerned Paul McKinlay, vp and head of remote for Cimpress/Vista, which implemented a similar strategy two years ago. It was Chesky’s comment that remote working “will become the predominant way companies work 10 years from now.”

The Airbnb boss’s prediction is supported by electronics firm Ricoh Europe’s research, which polled 3,000 employees in the U.K. and Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands last month. Almost half of the respondents (47%) think we’ll all work remotely in a decade’s time and that the traditional office space won’t exist.

But for Boston-based McKinlay that timeframe isn’t nearly fast enough. He warned that global leaders need to “act much sooner” and develop fully-fledged hybrid and remote-friendly working models for the benefit of their team members, shareholders and business results.

WorkLife spoke to a range of execs from different companies, which have already implemented successful hybrid and remote-first models, for tips on what to focus on. Here’s what they had to say ….

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in May 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

The seven biggest hybrid-working challenges, and how to fix them

The phrase “new normal” is a misnomer, given the state of flux in the business world. Few organizations have been able to normalize operations; who can say they’ve nailed their hybrid working strategy with a straight face?

As Kate Thrumble, executive director of talent at marketing company R/GA London, said: “We are all on a – to use an overused word – ‘journey’ with the post-pandemic way of working. No one has cracked it yet. Even those with the best intentions will have to wait a year or two to understand the impact of today’s decisions.”

However, by matching the right technology solutions with the most pressing hybrid-working challenges, organizations will reach their end destination quicker: a happy, productive, engaged and empowered workforce.

So what exactly are the seven most significant business challenges and the best tech, tools and processes to solve them and speed up progress?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s future-of-work platform, WorkLife, in May 2022 – to continue reading please click HERE.

Why new hybrid working policies are falling short for employees

Hybrid working policies are a mess.

In the stampede to get people back into the office, most employers have fallen short when it comes to providing real flexibility and autonomy. The result: employees that have returned to the office haven’t enjoyed the experience, while those that have been forced to return, have quit as a result, according to sources.

Part of the issue is that hybrid workforce strategies have largely been centered on where employees should be while they work, rather than on work outcomes. It should be the other way around.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Navigating the messy business of pets in the workplace – at home and in the office

Never work with children or animals, warns the old show-biz adage. So what happens if you acquired a pet during the pandemic — as millions of households did — and need to tend to your newish pooch or pussycat either at home while on videoconferencing calls or in the company workplace? 

When things go wrong, it can be highly amusing for everyone apart from the embarrassed owner and possibly their boss, especially if there is a mess to clean up. For instance, New York-based HR professional Harriet – a pseudonym WorkLife agreed to – recently suffered a “disgusting” experience while on a virtual call with her team. 

“In the background of the shot, I noticed my dog, Rooster, starting to poo,” she said. “I immediately pushed my camera up, so he was out of sight, put myself on mute, and used my best poker face. Within seconds he had defecated all over the room – something to do with eating a discarded takeaway-food wrapper the day before.”

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Retiring ‘Out of office’ for ‘In the office’ email sign-offs: How to avoid defaulting to video meetings when in the office

When, on April 1, Bruce Daisley, best-selling author of “The Joy of Work,” posed a provocative question on LinkedIn musing whether “the ‘in the office’ message [will] replace the ‘out of office’” it was no foolish whimsy. 

As he explained: “Heard a brilliant thing today. One firm says they don’t want workers in the office spending all day on email. The suggestion is that everyone put their ‘in the office’ message on and deal with email from home.”

The former vp of Twitter for Europe, Middle East and Africa later told WorkLife that his comment came after hearing complaints from numerous firms that employees are heading into the office only to spend all day on video conferencing calls.

“Throughout the pandemic, the number of meetings in our diaries has doubled, and those meetings have stuck, like knotweed,” he said. “We’ve spent two years reflecting on the best way to get our work done, and then we’ve sleepwalked into a horrible solution.”

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Bookshelf: Lynda Gratton on why design is central to making hybrid returns work for everyone

Hundreds if not thousands of organizations have revealed their hybrid working strategies in the last few weeks, with varying volumes of fanfare. Clearly, these plans are works in progress, given the colossal shift — for many — from the old normal. And it’s also apparent that there is no blueprint for success. Or is there?

Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School and the founder of HSM, the future-of-work research consultancy, is known for her work on organizational behavior. And in her latest book, “Redesigning Work: How to Transform Your Organization and Make Hybrid Work for Everyone,” she offers a four-step process to success: understand what matters: reimagine the future, model and test and, finally, act and create. But perhaps the most crucial advice is delivered in the book’s dedication: “To all those who are bold enough to redesign work.” 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in April 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Why poor coordination and communication are undermining hybrid working models and making staff miserable

In theory, hybrid working is incredibly empowering for employees as it promises greater flexibility and autonomy. But it’s difficult to get right. In practice, poorly coordinated efforts are causing them to fall short.

What’s worse, those affected often suffer in silence, not raising their concerns, worried about repercussions.

For instance, New York-based finance administrator Stella — a pseudonym WorkLife agreed to — has become wholly demoralized by returning to the office. A toxic combination of poor coordination and miscommunication means that her teammates and colleagues are absent most of the time. 

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in March 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

‘What’s in it for me?’: The employee question that needs answering in any return-to-office playbook

It’s crunch time for hybrid return-to-office plans, again.

After numerous false starts (thanks Delta and Omicron) it looks like a full-scale return to the office, in whatever shape or form that takes, has arrived. As such, a growing number of major organizations have started to show what hybrid model they’re going for.

Last week, Google told staff in the San Francisco Bay Area and several other U.S. locations that it will end its voluntary work-from-home phase in April, in favor of a plan where most employees will spend three days in the office and two working remotely.

Microsoft has also said it will reopen its Washington state and Bay Area offices, and that employees can configure what days they come to the office with their managers. Likewise, with all coronavirus restrictions officially lifted in England, organizations there are being pressured to articulate and activate their return-to-the-office plans.

Trite as it may be, it’s vital to acknowledge that an incredible amount has changed in the world of work since the pandemic struck almost precisely two years ago. And the most significant transformation has been where most of us work.

Models will naturally vary depending on the company, but there are a few essential guidelines that are worthwhile for all employers to take note of. Here’s a breakdown of five key areas employers need to have in their playbook.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in March 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

How to steer clear of ‘employee whiplash’ if driving a return to the office

On Valentine’s Day, Microsoft showed its affection to staff by announcing plans to reopen its Washington state and California Bay Area offices on February 28 — but will workers love it?

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the technology titan had indefinitely postponed return-to-work plans for its 103,000 employees, last September. But now its hybrid-working strategy has been revealed, and staff members are being called back into the office, it will likely spur other prominent organizations to follow suit. 

But could the sudden shift from remote to in-office working cause what Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s HR practice, calls “employee whiplash”? And, if so, what are the likely short- and long-term effects, and how can they be avoided?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in February 2022 – to continue reading please click here.

Employers should focus on improving employees’ experiences in 2022, say experts

People are at odds with their employers on what makes a great employee experience — a disconnect that will need to be swiftly rectified in 2022 if businesses are to retain their talent, according to analysts and workplace experts.

We asked a range of execs what they predict will be the top priorities for business leaders in 2022, and alongside finessing what the right hybrid models are, fixing the employee experience emerged as another major theme.

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in December 2021 – to continue reading please click here.

‘It’s just another 9 to 5’: Employers assess productivity levels after introducing 4-day work week

As organizations tiptoe into the post-pandemic world of hybrid working, the idea of a four-day week is gaining popularity. Little surprise, if working one fewer day and not being docked any pay is in the offing, which is precisely what some businesses are already offering. 

For smaller businesses that can’t afford to pay staff 20% extra, a four-day week is still an appealing proposition. Many leaders acknowledge that working 9 to 5 is, in 2021, only heard of in Dolly Parton’s classic tune. More flexibility, trust, and autonomy are the vital factors that will count to attracting and retaining top talent. 

Indeed, in the U.K., 38% of small- and medium-sized enterprises leaders recently indicated they plan to forge ahead with four-day-week plans. It’s a concept that works in theory, but does it work in practice?

This article was first published on DigiDay’s WorkLife platform in October 2021 – to continue reading please click here.

U.K.’s gas panic-buying nightmare pushes more employers to adopt hybrid working and commuting setups

The fuel crisis in the U.K., which has sparked hours-long lines at gas stations, has put a damper on some people’s return to the office. But it’s also persuaded hybrid-working skeptics to embrace more flexible models so as to avoid any future disruption.

If the amber light was flashing for hybrid working, for many it’s now showing red for a return to the office. And for those whose professions are not conducive to home working, or for whom public transport is not a viable commuting option, the increased weight of gas problems is tipping the balance in favor of electric vehicles.

Spice Kitchen — a Liverpool-based artisanal spice and tea company — has firmed up its operational plans in response to employee commuting struggles, said Ann Lowe, Spice Kitchen’s head of community. “While the impact [of the fuel crisis] on business has been minimal, it has shifted our thinking in terms of sustainability and resilience,” she said.

While Spice Kitchen’s headquarter office is close to public transport links and staff have been granted public transport expenses if their petrol tanks were empty in the last fortnight, the situation has inspired other long-term changes. “We’ve encouraged car sharing more as a policy, and we are offering flexible hours to accommodate this so that staff can get to and from work together,” added Lowe. “Finally, now we have set up everyone to work from home if needed, so in a way, the fuel shortage has pushed us closer to a hybrid working culture.”

Nick McQuire, chief of enterprise research at specialist technology market intelligence and advisory firm CCS Insight, is not surprised the crisis has prompted more adoption of hybrid-working models. “The fuel crisis has reinforced the need for companies to have resiliency baked into their workplace practices and processes and accelerated the shift to hybrid working,” he said. “But there is not a universal approach, because some leaders still want to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic,” he added.

On October 5, Slack’s quarterly global pulse survey showed that of those currently working remotely, executives are almost three-times more likely to want to head back to the office full-time compared with non-exec workers. The research indicates that now is a critical moment, with 86% of organizations close to finalizing their post-pandemic workforce plans in countries including the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the U.S. — which is also experiencing gas price hikes.

Move to electric?

Not everyone has the luxury of working from home, though, or even having an office with decent public transport links. The fuel crisis has been especially frustrating for Mark Clayton, a southeast London-based chief lighting technician for TV shows and movies including Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. 

“We often have to reach rural locations at unsociable times, and recently I’ve been working at a studio that is impractical to get to via public transport,” he said, adding that he hasn’t been able to fill his diesel-powered van for 11 days and been forced to foot the bill for hotel accommodation close to the studio for fear of running dry.

“My crew has had to carpool, raising concerns about COVID-19 — but it’s that, or just don’t come to work. As freelancers, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Our whole production runs on fuel: minibusses to get the crew to and from the car park, equipment trucks, action cars, food deliveries and generators. All have been affected. One crew member waited four hours on a forecourt for a tanker to arrive so that he could guarantee getting filled up.”

Meanwhile, others still — particularly those who transport people or things around — wonder if it’s the end of the road for their current careers. “I’ve been a black-cab driver for over 30 years, and now has been the hardest I’ve known the job – and I drove when the Gulf War limited fuel,” said southeast-London taxi driver Lee Poole. “People have been panic buying fuel, and it’s been a nightmare for me professionally. I’ve had to visit up to eight garages to find one that has diesel and then had to queue for an hour or more.”

The ongoing fuel issues have ignited thoughts of a vehicle upgrade for Clayton. “There are a few — rightly — smug colleagues with electric cars, and this crisis has made me think that an electric van is a way forward,” he said. “Once charging stations are more plentiful, and electric van driving ranges have increased slightly, I will be investing in a fully electric or hybrid vehicle.”

Lisa Conibear, U.K. and European director of Zoomo, which provides high-quality LEVs (light electric vehicles) in London and Liverpool and in the U.S. and Australia, noted that Google search data highlighted online searches for “electric cars” rocketed 1,600% in September, prompted by the fuel crisis.  

So how will it change people’s opinions about the daily commute? The average petrol car on the road in the U.K. produces the equivalent of 180g of CO2 per kilometer, while a diesel car produces 173g of CO2 every kilometer, according to research cited by Conibear. And in the U.S. the average passenger vehicle on the road releases 650g of CO2 every kilometer.

“The attitude to commuting is a tricky sentiment to nail down definitively, but what the research and data tell us is that there is a significant opportunity to cut down emissions if we better recognize our commuting habits and fully consider the alternatives available to us,” she added.

This article was originally published on Digiday (which uses American English) in October 2021

Remote, hybrid, office? Which will be your ‘new normal’?

To help business leaders decide how their future workplaces might best operate, three experts with very different views on the subject argue the pros and cons of fully remote, hybrid and office working

After 18 months of enforced homeworking for many people, it’s difficult to foresee a future in which remote and hybrid working won’t feature. However, many businesses are keen to coax staff back to the office at least for part of the week – Covid-19 restrictions permitting – while others have spoken out against working from home, including Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon who called it an “aberration”.

So, is hybrid working likely to last, or will there be a snapback to old operating methods? Here, three experts debate whether fully remote, hybrid or office working is the best option for the future.

Fully remote working

Darren Murph has written the manual on remote working, literally, publishing Living the Remote Dream: A Guide to Seeing the World, Setting Records and Advancing Your Career in 2015. Four years later, in July 2019, he was appointed head of remote at technology company GitLab, one of the world’s largest fully remote organisations with more than 1,300 employees spread across 65 countries.

For Murph, the past 18 months have proved that remote working is the future. “The pandemic has forced organisations to grapple with reality: distributed work is here, it’s happening, and it’s no longer a choice or an argument for the vast majority of industries,” he says. “Covid-19 accelerated a trend that began decades ago, as society leverages the internet to live better lives while driving business results. The benefits are many – to the employee, the employer and the world.”

Some of the advantages, Murph argues, are a more diverse and inclusive workforce, greater efficiency in workflows and a broader global coverage in servicing clients. He also believes being fully remote makes businesses more resilient and more able to preserve continuity regardless of whether the office is open or closed. 

“Businesses will be better equipped to weather future crises by empowering results that are decoupled from geography. They’ll find it easier to hire diverse teams and elevate introverted voices that have historically been squashed,” he says.

While Murph acknowledges that “all-remote isn’t for everyone” and can make onboarding recruits more challenging, he believes the pros far outweigh the cons. “Knowledge workers have proven that they can drive results without the crutch of the office,” he says. “Rather than employees needing to justify why they should work from home as opposed to the office, we’ve entered a world where employers must justify exorbitant waste in terms of commute time and real estate to accomplish digital tasks.”

Offering his three top tips for businesses seeking to optimise a remote-working model, Murph suggests the first step is to hire a dedicated remote-work leader. “Companies need to realise this is a full-scale organisational transformation and, if you want it done well, it can’t be a part-time job,” he says.

Murph also recommends that companies audit their values and documentation hygiene to ensure both are ready for a distributed workforce. Finally, he suggests starting to shut down office spaces. “Nothing sends a clearer signal that your future will be driven by how not where work happens than a shift away from offices,” he says.

Hybrid working

Samantha Fisher is head of dynamic work for Okta, an identity and access management company. Explaining what dynamic working means at Okta, she says: “It’s about personalising the working experience and enabling employees to work in whichever way makes the most sense for them. It’s not just a case of where employees are located – at the office, home or elsewhere – it’s about workplace design, people engagement, technology, talent acquisition, morale and company culture.”

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, 30% of Okta’s 2,400 employees were already working remotely. “We found that this flexibility increased empowerment, satisfaction and productivity,” says Fisher. “The pandemic accelerated the need for more flexible frameworks. Over the past year or so, employees have benefitted from a better work-life balance and reduced commuting costs, as well as greater autonomy which has led to more empowerment.”

Appointed Okta’s first head of dynamic work in January 2021, she was tasked with building organisational culture more broadly, anchoring equity, social connection and productivity, and enabling employees to work from anywhere successfully. “I spend a lot of my time working with cross-functional teams, thinking about the programmes, services and experiences we offer while in the office and how we can translate these for a hybrid environment and/or reposition services in a way that enhances experiences at any location,” she says.

The pandemic has forced organisations to grapple with reality: distributed work is here… it’s no longer a choice or an argument for the vast majority of industries

Fisher stresses the importance of “community building”, explaining that the workplace is a vital part of the business ecosystem and a key element of organisational culture. “I look at developing creative and holistic solutions that augment talent strategies, optimise technology enablement and support shifts in workforce operations,” she says.

Okta’s The New Workplace Report: A Business Balancing Act – published in June 2021 and based on a survey of more than 10,000 office-based workers across eight European countries and 12 industry sectors – found 42% of respondents wanted a mix of home- and office-based working, 17% wanted to work from home permanently and just 16% wanted to work in the office five days a week.

But what’s needed to make hybrid working successful? “For organisations to provide flexibility and equity in their workplace environment, you need executive support, investment in technology, a focus on culture and experience, and leaders to build and drive long-term strategy,” says Fisher. “It’s a fully cross-functional initiative and requires both passion and heart to curate a dynamic working environment.”

Office working

Chris Grazier, an office agency partner at Hartnell Taylor Cook and president of the Bristol Property Agents Association, is confident that office working will thrive again. But he urges organisations to be smarter with their workspaces rather than using the trend for hybrid working as a way to downsize and, ultimately, cut overheads.

Grazier admits that the democratisation of video conferencing during the pandemic has been “a revelation for all businesses”, including in the property industry in which he has operated for almost three decades. “The flipside,” he says, “has been staff isolation, the effect on teamwork, the inability to mentor junior staff and the loss of creativity that springs from face-to-face or group working.”

Now, after a year and a half of Zoom calls, there is a collective craving to return to the office and to network and collaborate without an awkward time delay or mistakenly being on mute. “The office is where business culture is formed,” says Grazier. “It’s both good for the employee, who can build some separation between home life and work, and it connects employers with employees in a way that a Zoom call never can. And despite headlines touting that the home is the office of the future, over the past few months we have witnessed businesses returning staff to the workplace.” 

Rather than employees needing to justify why they should work from home… employers must justify exorbitant waste in terms of commute time and real estate to accomplish digital tasks.

Indeed, data showing the floor space taken up in Bristol city centre in the past three quarters, including Q2 this year, reveals more ‘Grade A offices’ – high-quality workspace, refurbished or new – have been occupied than non-Grade A spaces. “This is a complete reversal of previous trends, and it hints that businesses are focusing on less but higher-quality space for their new offices than they did for their former ones,” Grazier says.

Echoing concerns from business leaders about tracking workers’ productivity away from the office, Grazier believes that by investing in smarter workspaces, staff will want to return. “I’d recommend that organisations use less space but improve the quality,” he says. 

Grazier also points out that many organisations are emerging from the pandemic with a decent balance sheet, thanks to government support, offering them a unique opportunity to upgrade their offices. “Don’t try to save money if you are moving,” he advises. “Try to spend that money more wisely by creating an environment that draws on the strengths of teamworking and positive culture.”

This article first appeared in Raconteur’s Hybrid Working report, published in September 2021