‘I’m not sure the office will ever be

the same again’ Tales of the ‘new normal’

From the beginning of August, organisations will have more discretion to bring their staff back into the office as Covid-19 lockdown eases further. But is this what the people want after many months of adapting to home working life? Dan Robinson finds out from East Midlands business leaders how the so-called “new normal” could look in the professional workplace

The water cooler, coffee machine, even the bathroom entrance – all fairly unremarkable features of many an office, yet who knew how much they would be missed? Back in the early days of March, few had perhaps taken a

moment to notice their charm, but by the end of July they had become sacred treasures of a bygone era – a haphazard rendezvous point for colleagues moseying through their nine ‘til five routines. Kevin Harris is reminiscing in the glamour of bumping into

a teammate during a mid-morning coffee break, pondering on the opportunities that could follow such an encounter. “In our office, all the best ideas don’t come from pre-

arranged meetings but often from having a coffee in the kitchen with a colleague,” he says. “You’ll overhear the water cooler conversations or people

on the phone to their clients, which might give you ideas to apply to your own clients. “Those are the more impromptu things I miss that don’t

really happen on planned Microsoft Teams meetings. That conversation doesn’t take place in a remote environment.” Kevin admits part of the office allure is important to his

company RSM, the accountancy firm with 4,500 staff in offices spread across the UK, including 150 split between Nottingham and Leicester, because its business strategy relies on having a local presence for its clients. Some high-profile firms, including Twitter and Siemens,

have announced during Covid-19 lockdown that staff will now be allowed to “work from anywhere” permanently even once restrictions are lifted. The idea is that professional workforces have proven

they can continue being productive while working from home throughout the pandemic, and the “new normal” we are about to enter provides opportunities for both employers and employees to reduce costs and reset the scales of a work-life balance. But for Kevin, who is the Leicester office managing

partner, he sees no reason why a physical presence won’t continue to be central to RSM and many other professional services firms. He adds: “Businesses are still going to want to have

offices because it keeps people local to the market. “For some firms, just having an office at all could be an

unnecessary cost but in professional services, particularly the case for lawyers and accountants, so many opportunities are generated by having people working in a shared space.

44 business network August/September 2020

Video meetings are set to become more commonplace “People come together with the same clients regularly

and bounce ideas off each other. Those brainstorming discussions are what happen in office environments. “That’s why it’s important to make sure we have people

come together physically, not virtually. “If you take it away, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t

do your job, but you can’t do it as well. “That’s the hidden cost of remote working because you just don’t know what you’re missing out on.”

Research from YouGov in May found that 38 per cent of the UK workforce was working from home, a significant increase from seven per cent pre-Covid. This may just be the beginning, as the Institute of

Leadership & Management (ILM) recently surveyed 1,250 business leaders, with half of those people thinking home working was here to stay and only one in three saying they would return to physical workplaces. Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at

the ILM, says this provides new challenges for managers and leaders in building and sustaining relationships with staff. A holistic approach will be key, as she explains: “We’ve

had an insight into people’s home circumstances, which means you can’t ever say ‘leave your home life at the door of the office’ again. “We’ve been in people’s front rooms, bedrooms and

kitchens, and seen the complexities of their lives. So managers need to understand the whole person and not just the person who comes to work. “That calls for a much more compassionate

understanding and thinking about how you can help

‘We’ve been in people’s front rooms, bedrooms and kitchens, and seen the complexities of their lives. So managers need to understand the whole person and not just the person who comes to work’

Kevin Harris, of RSM

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