We must embrace the ‘new normal’

After more than 30 years at one of the East Midlands’ largest law firms, David Williams has been through many periods of change – but the biggest transformation could be just around the corner as we enter the so-called “new normal”. He tells Dan Robinson what he thinks this will look like – and why millennials may have been a few steps ahead of their employers all along.

Almost every working day since the middle of March, David Williams has written a blog for his colleagues at Geldards. He has covered the kinds of personal topics that have

occupied the minds of many people since a Covid-induced lockdown begun, ranging from the challenges of mental health and entertaining children through to the simple joy of receiving an Amazon parcel. After 100-plus days, finding original ideas to explore has

grown rather tiring – much like the novelty of being confined to living rooms, spare bedrooms and kitchens has worn off for many of the nation’s office workers. “It doesn’t feel like I’m working from home at this point –

it’s more like living at work,” says David. “For a lot of people, that’s a problem because they’re

working from Monday to Friday, and then on a Saturday they’re opening their laptop because that’s just what they do now. “Wherever they’re choosing to work inside their home,

the environment is the same for both work and life. People are desperate for some variety. “Humans are also social animals – we want to be around

people and not having the opportunity to do that is causing frustration.” This was highlighted by a survey of Geldards’ 340 staff

carried out several months into lockdown. It found that, while 83% of employees felt they were equipped to work from home, 92% wanted to return to the office. “That’s not a bad thing because it means they have

something that holds them together,” says David, who is chairman of the firm where he has worked since 1989. “If you spend your life working at home, I don’t know

where the mothership fits into that because people need to be bound into a team and friendship group. “But a percentage in the high-80s want to work flexibly

when they return to the office. They don’t just want to go back to the nine ’til five routine but have a way of working that fits around school hours, commuting or other aspects of their lifestyle.”

An adjustment of the work-life balance pendulum is a

central pillar of the “new normal” that has become a favourite buzzword of these times. Adopting new technologies has been crucial and David

has witnessed a “monstrous evolution” in which his company transformed in four months – arguably even four days – at a rate that he previously didn’t believe would be possible in four years. But it also relies on a measure of trust between

employers and their staff – who he reasons should no longer be doubted by sceptical managers for not putting in the hard yards should they wish to spend a day working on their kitchen tabletop once everyone is back in the office. David admits he wasn’t immune to such an “old school”

mentality but, like many, has modernised his outlook on the workplace during the pandemic. “We’ve all had duvet days, but because we went into this

with a siege mentality to work really hard in order to make sure the business survived and prospered, that attitude just went overnight.”

From spending too much money on iPhones and Costa coffees to being embroiled in a perpetual struggle to get on the housing ladder, millennials make for fascinating subject material among social commentators. The US think-tank Pew Research Center defines

Generation Y, another name for this cohort, as those born between 1981 and 1996. With a 33-year-old son and 30-year-old daughter – as

well as numerous employees from this age group – David is very familiar with how millennial expectations and ways of life differ to his own generation. “They have a very serious attitude to building careers

and working hard, but they don’t think that needs to be nine ‘til five,” says the 63-year-old, who lives in Smalley, Derbyshire. “My son in particular will work at any time in the 24

hours and doesn’t see a difficulty in that. He might be going for a run while most people are in the office but then he will come back in the evening and do some more work. “So the millennial generation was already thinking in a

different way. They probably looked at their parents and thought they had no quality of life – they just work to live and live to work – so they said ‘I’m not doing that’. “When lockdown hit and the work was still getting done,

this group of people said ‘I told you so, now just let us get on with it’. “We might have fixed the national productivity problem

in one fell swoop because everyone is now just focused on delivery.” For corporations like Geldards – a full-service firm with

Millennials have been ahead of the game when it comes to flexible ways of working

36 business network August/September 2020

offices in Derby, Nottingham, Cardiff and London that ranks in the top 100 of the Legal 500 across numerous sectors – however, this could have unintended consequences if the new world is not put into full perspective. David can already smell the danger of remote workers

‘We might have fixed the national productivity problem in one fell swoop because everyone is now just focused on delivery’

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