The big priorities for office life in the post-pandemic era

20 August 2021 4 min. read
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The beginning of the end of the pandemic is in sight. Conversation has turned to our return to the office. But what will the post-Covid office look like, and what impact will a year or more of working from home have had on our corporate culture? Ian Johnston, a Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, shares his views.

For most businesses, a hybrid model seems to be the preferred choice, and surveys of employees suggest that it is also their preferred option. Spending a certain amount of time in the office and a certain amount at home appears to achieve a “best of both”; with plenty of opportunity for both collaboration and focused work. 

Team building and collaboration

The ability to work together cohesively while working remotely will be the true test of the hybrid working model. It’s easier to form relationships and build trust in person, so an in-person all-hands meeting should happen monthly or quarterly. Ideally, this would take place alongside team-building activities and social events that allow people to connect and feel included. 

 Ian Johnston, Partner, Heidrick & Struggles 

Onboarding is a crucial phase in the employee lifecycle, and may be a time when businesses prefer to see employees in person to get to know them and support them through early training. 

Intentional leadership

Creating a positive, vibrant workplace culture starts from the top. Recent research by Heidrick & Struggles suggests that British CEOs consider it important to be role models to their staff, but pay less attention to issues like retention rates and diversity than their American counterparts. UK CEOs prioritise engagement with their employees far more than their global counterparts and are keen to personally promote organisational culture.

A more intentional approach may pay greater dividends as ensuring that your workplace culture is designed for the post-pandemic phase can also impact your bottom line. The research also found a correlation between a company’s growth and their dedication to creating an intentional workplace culture. 

Physical workspaces at home and in the office 

As hybrid working models become a reality, there is less need for office space to be dedicated to a sea of desks. Instead, businesses should redesign workspaces so that they are set up for collaboration. Invest in more meeting rooms and fewer individual offices. From high-tech smart whiteboards to low-tech sticky notes, ensure the tools for collaboration are available. 

As well as project work, teams are likely to learn together at a central location, so a dedicated learning space may be a worthwhile investment. Create space for casual, informal conversations too; there’s a reason why the water cooler occupies a space in office lore – it’s a place where people meet and ideas are born. Kitchenettes, staff rooms and foyers should be comfortable spaces where people can pass a few minutes before or after a meeting.

But what about when your employees are at home? For both cultural and health and safety reasons, it’s important to make sure they’re set up properly. Some companies allowed their employees to take their desks home during the pandemic, while others – especially Big Tech– provided a stipend to ensure employees could set up proper home offices. 

Well-being at work and Employee Assistance Programmes

With less time spent face-to-face, wellbeing initiatives and Employee Assistance Programmes are crucial pillars for organisations that want to take workplace culture seriously. Subsidised gym memberships can help employees exercise and stay healthy, while sports and social clubs allow people to have fun outside of the office that can translate into stronger working relationships and break down silos. 

More importantly, Employee Assistance Programmes support resilience and positive mental health. This can allow your teams to manage stress better, avoid burnout – which has been on the rise during the pandemic, and to know when they need to seek further help. 

Most often, cultural change in the workplace happens slowly. The pandemic caused drastic upheaval overnight and forced businesses to improvise and adapt. We’re now moving into the next phase of the world of work, and putting some real thought into how best to engage your employees can have a direct impact on how you manage the next big challenges and opportunities that rock the business world.