In this guest blog post, Edenhouse shares excerpts from the very first episode of Eden Talks, its new new podcast series., Simon Humphreys from SAP tells Edenhouse’s Phil Southall that confidence and trust are needed across the board as UK businesses navigate their way through the various challenges presented by COVID-19.
As businesses have navigated through the challenges presented by COVID-19, they have been forced to trust their employees to work from home, work unsupervised and work out of sight.
In many organisations, pre-COVID, several barriers existed that prevented flexible working arrangements. One of the most significant barriers, said SAP Solution Advisor Simon Humphreys was cultural resistance – and that’s an obstacle that’s quickly been reduced in size, if not overcome altogether.
“Look at local government, central government, for example,” said Humphreys. “In the past, those have been industries that didn’t have ongoing, active support for working from home. They were more traditional, encouraged people to come into an office, work set hours and go home.
“We’re seeing a real difference in that space now. People have embraced working from home – more because they’ve had to than anything else – but having done that they’ve overcome the cultural resistance that might have been in place.
“I’ve seen some benchmarking in civil service; they’re now considering that 75 per cent of their workforce can continue to work from home, even once the pandemic has resolved – and that’s a significant change in the culture of that organisation.”
By embracing a more flexible working environment – if the business lends itself to flexible working, of course – and consequently changing the culture, companies can experience many benefits. There are efficiencies to be enjoyed, potential boosts to productivity, and attracting a new set of prospective employees.
“Some people don’t want to work for organisations that insist you have to go to an office, nine-to-five, in a certain location,” said Humphreys. “Being able to offer working from home as an option opens up new opportunities for new recruits coming in.”
Working from home – a surprise success?
While some businesses were already offering flexible working arrangements and
had the technology to facilitate that, many others weren’t. They’ve been left with no option but to provide flexible working, and Phil Southall said, “I think it’s definitely been a surprise for some organisations, just how successful that working from home, or hybrid, model can be.
“There must be companies thinking about whether, going forward, they need anybody in the office full time. It moves from that ‘I see you working hard’ approach to ‘I see the hard work you’ve produced’, approach. [Businesses] will have seen [physical presence] isn’t always required now, and now they can show a bit more empathy to employees about what their work-life balance and wellbeing requires.”
We’ve been forced into an environment in which businesses have had no other option but to trust their employees. And moving forward – whenever we do move forward from this pandemic – the onus is on businesses to build a way of working that enables people to work from home, work from the office, or work in a combination of the two.
“That cultural aspect is the unsaid, the unheard bit of an organisation, and it’s very difficult to change culture in a short period of time,” said Humphreys. “Even just the length of the lockdown, and the resulting return to work, helped with that as you’ve seen that trust build up.”
That new-found trust is a “silver lining of an unfortunate cloud” said Humphreys.
Employees have earned trust – now it’s business’s turn
However, trust is a two-way street, and that newfound trust may erode quickly if it’s not replicated as businesses navigate the road to whatever those new working arrangements look like.
From the practical office elements of having hand sanitiser readily available and office deep cleans, to having a robust contact tracing system and an office set-up conducive to productivity, via the management of people’s return to work based on their individual circumstances, there are plenty of things businesses need to consider to build upon what has been achieved over recent months.
“Even things like desk layouts,” said Humphreys. “You probably have to make some adjustments there so that you have some form of social distancing, so people don't have to wear masks when they're at their desk.”
At SAP, Humphreys revealed, the office configuration has enabled the business to encourage people to take their masks off when they are sat at their desk, but put their mask on when moving around the office.
“There's a lot to consider when looking at going back into the office. The majority of it is around building confidence, and ensuring people feel safe and secure when they're at work.”
Of course, in many buildings, space is at a premium, so that could spell the need for a rota, having to book desks and a long-term working from home or hybrid policy.
Whatever that looks like, trust has to be at the core. Businesses have to trust their employees will do the right thing. And, vice versa.