The future of the workplace: considerations for leadership

Unquestionably, we are experiencing a period of sustained, significant, and fast-paced change. Whilst some of this change is likely to disappear with the pandemic, there are other challenges that will continue to impact business for the foreseeable future. Areas such as cash-flow is a constant consideration and Finance Leads will continue to play a critical role moving forward, but looking inside the boardroom, many new topics have emerged as constants – take for example remote working, office space, digital and well-being.

In crises before such as the 08/09 financial crisis, CEO’s and business owners have tended to look to the Finance Director for comfort and assurance. However, during the pandemic, the HR Director has become the new hero of the team as organisations jostle with furlough, engaging remote workforces, new skill sets, redundancies of remote on-boarding.  As we continue to see the evolution of the workplace and business undergo a cultural adaption, the stock and influence of the HR Director will only continue to rise. Here are how the key topics are affecting our clients and the considerations for leadership.

Remote working and the ‘new’ norm

Since the March 2020, daily users on Zoom has risen from 10 million to 300 million; Microsoft Teams daily users jumped from 44m to 75m; and in a recent Gartner survey, 74% of CFO’s intend to move at least 5% of their workforce on-site.

Despite prior assumptions about remote working, productivity has been largely reported to have increased amongst our client-base and the wider economy.

As a feature in companies, remote working will (and rightly should) be a discussion for individual organisations. There is a disproportionate impact where remote working is most accessible to businesses with higher proportions of white-collar workers. For some, it will be an option to move 80% of the workforce to remote working, whereas other companies will not have the same flexibility. For example, Severlec, the software company based in Yorkshire, have recently announced their intention to have all staff based remotely. 

Regardless of your organisations make-up of workforce, the agenda has surely shifted from “Shall we offer remote working?” to “what is the right balance for our business?”.

Office space, design and location

This is creating several longer-term considerations for businesses. Firstly, office space. If businesses embrace even a small shift towards remote working and reduced office space by 10%, there will be opportunities to reduce office costs per head. Often featuring as a top-three cost to businesses, many owners and CFO’s will relish the opportunity to reduce real estate spend and improve margins

Secondly, the design and the location of office-space is already changing and will continue to do so. The trend of the last decade towards city centre offices is likely to be stalled or reversed to some extent. Equally, the move towards large open plan offices will be under pressure, as businesses consider utilising flexible office arrangements that provide more localised office support for workers, rather than one single ‘hub’. This has been most prevalent amongst clients with 500 plus white-collar employees.

Decision-making and culture        

With remote working set to continue in some capacity for the foreseeable future, HR Directors are working overtime to maintain engagement with workforces, improve resilience as the lines of work and life blur, and encourage good decision-making practices that involve and inspire employees. Back in May, we held a webinar with HR Directors to explore the theme of Engaging the Workforce. There was a lot of focus on regular contact (daily for some employees) to keep them engaged and informed. Many businesses moved to short-term measures such as bi-daily statements from management; remote coffee shops, quizzes…. After a recent follow-up, the conversation has moved on to resilience and well-being.

Working remotely has blurred the lines between home life and work. Without a daily commute, it is increasingly difficult to disengage from work on an evening and with video calls every half an hour and greatly improved connection, many of our clients are expressing a large increase in workload and length of day. All of this is placing strain on well-being within the workforce and has demanded resilience from leadership.

As organisations redefine their relationship with employees, much consideration must be given to the side-effects and emotional strain that regular remote working can have. 

This will re-shape the role of the Line Manager, and place much greater emphasis on organisations to have genuine people leaders that have high levels of empathy and compassion.

Culture has also been an area which family businesses have been particularly strong in when attracting staff during recruitment exercises.

Often having strong values of community, purpose and togetherness, family businesses will need to consider adapting their practices to remain competitive to talent. Remote working as a binary competitive advantage will no longer be the case and rather, it will be about trust and integrity from the leadership team to promote sensible balance.

The recruitment process itself is also changing. Many businesses are incorporating video conferencing as a key component of the interview process because more roles require a substantial degree of online communication. Online etiquette is a real thing that many of those who have been opposite someone falling below standards will only know too well.

Overall, an excellent HR Director and department, capable of shaping the relationship with the workforce, supporting business owners to lead with transparency and coaching management to be empathetic leaders, will become invaluable. It is an area many of our clients have strengthened over the past 6 months and continue to do so as we embark on a new defining time period.

This article was originally placed in the Institue of Family Business on 18 September 2020. The original article can be found here.

Beaumont Bailey is an leadership advisory and executive search  firm in London that recruit executive, leadership and advisory roles globally. With practices covering industrialproperty, investment and technology, Beaumont Bailey help bridge the gap between traditional industry and emerging businesses through a consultative, personable and detailed style.

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