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On returning to the office, get the balance right and be flexible
September 24, 2021
In March 2020, the way we worked was turned upside down. The pandemic struck and we were all forced to pack up our desks and get used to working from home.
Fast forward 18 months – after entertaining children daily, taking meetings from bed and sighing: "You’re on mute, Dave" – agencies are finally beginning to return to the office.
Well, some that is.
At Receptional, we braved the return earlier than most, with a careful, considered and phased approach.
Here's what we’ve learnt.
Ready, set, go
First things first, we had to set up right before we could even consider welcoming everyone back to the office. We read the government guidelines inside out, listened to webinars from specialists in the area, asked our people for their ideas and concerns, and made sure our space was Covid-secure.
We provided everyone with safety packs: masks, hand sanitiser, wipes and lateral flow tests. We now ask people to test the night before they come in to the office and to log it on an online form, to ensure we're all accountable for each other's safety.
We introduced a one-way system around the office and weekly rotas to reduce contact. We ensured people knew that returning to the office was optional not compulsory. And we now wipe down shared spaces – meeting rooms, kitchens and the much-loved table tennis table – after each use.
We also understand that everyone is unique, so we introduced coloured wristbands – green (a-ok), yellow (not sure) and red (keep your distance). These mean we know how comfortable we all feel being in close proximity to each other.
After months of preparation, the return of our brilliant people was finally able to happen (pictured above).
Getting the balance right
Some agencies may go back to business-as-usual and some may stay home forever. However, the majority will look to get a balance between the two right.
For some agencies, that might only be one day in the office, for others it may be two or three days. It will be a test and learn approach for most and there will likely be several remodelled versions of it in the first year.
The key to hybrid working is having a level of fluidity and flexibility rather than mandating people to be in this or that day. Receptional now does one day as a full agency, one day for each team and one day of individual choice. This is interchangeable week-on-week, leaving two days for people to work from the comfort of their homes.
The feedback from Receptional team members has been positive:
- “The flexibility of hybrid working is a great way to increase independence and make people feel like they're making their own decisions.”
- “There's a real buzz in the office on a Monday. It's great to have a day when you know everyone will be in.”
So, what does hybrid working offer?
Hybrid working has offered plenty of benefits to our people. They get both the time needed to focus from home without the distraction of a busy office environment and that much-needed, interactive face-to-face time with peers.
Colleague relationships have improved and there are clear signs that our people are more motivated than they ever have been before:
- “I have enjoyed returning to the office. I feel closer to the team and have a better work-life balance, being able to more easily switch off when I get home."
- “I actually look forward to days in the office, just seeing the team in real life helps with motivation and general well-being.”
An obvious benefit – but one that is often ignored – is the value of learning from one another, especially for junior members of the team. Hearing the conversation of the person next to you or observing business etiquette can offer serious value for our professional growth.
We also ran our first all-agency quarterly business review – supplemented with an afternoon of water sports – which allowed us to re-connect in an environment outside of the office.
Re-building lost agency culture will be important over the next few months but we have had some very positive feedback so far.
In the long term, this balance and flexibility should result in a happier and healthier workforce, resulting in fewer sick days, improved productivity and more revenue.
The results speak for themselves
We asked our 50-strong workforce to rate different factors, with hybrid working and our return to the office in mind. The results were both relieving and pleasing to see.
The results show a positive swing for all factors except financial expenditure, which is to be expected with increased travel costs and lunches, for example.
But not only has it produced great people results but equally great business results. We have won plenty of brilliant new clients, grown from 30 to 50 people, and have never been more profitable in our 22-year history.
All in less than six months.
Over the next few years, we’ll see new tools, new ways of working and new expectations from our people. It’ll be a case of adapting and remodelling until you find the right balance for your agency and your talent.
Getting the right work-life balance will be a benefit to employees – businesses that don’t transition to a hybrid working model will lose out on top talent, whether that model be fully remote or permanently office-based.
But guess what? It may even be a good thing for your agency too.
It certainly seems to be working for us.
- “I don't have any cons; I really like this way of working.”