Covid-19 has changed the business landscape. While some disruptions are temporary, there will certainly be some permanent changes to business culture. It’s time to start planning strategically about your location and work-from-home strategy.
Factors driving the change:
- A huge rise in demand and need for more remote and flexible working. This reduces commuting times and improves work-life balance. Many people will simply not be reverting to hours of commuting 5 days a week if it’s not necessary.
- Thousands of people in crowded, open-plan offices 9-5 is likely a thing of the past. Productivity in many roles improved, successfully challenging the status quo.
- Technology has enabled working from anywhere for years. Covid-19 has accelerated this change.
Can and should work be done remotely, in the long term? Here are 5 considerations:
1. Risk, compliance and controls. While some work may involve sensitive information or data – and therefore not allowed to be done at home – for the majority of finance and shared services professionals, work can be done remotely with sufficient IT controls in place.
Internal controls probably need to be re-examined. Fraudsters are taking advantage of employees working remotely and are exploiting new vulnerabilities. In addition to controls, technology and process improvements can serve to centralize and standardize the work to ensure it’s done efficiently and effectively.
2. Social Capital and Corporate Culture. Social capital is built on the value of interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity and values, trust and cooperation. Humans are social creatures. Some will be happier working more independently than others, but nobody succeeds completely on their own.
People have been very resilient in these difficult times, finding ways to collaborate and make things happen virtually. But there are often issues too difficult or just not conducive to solving remotely. Some opportunities will have been missed because people aren’t meeting and networking in person.
It’s a good time to think about what your corporate culture actually is, and how it can best support your business. Talk to your employees about what work is easy to do at home, and what they miss about the office. If people are missing or wanting more interaction, plan for ways to bring people back periodically in a safe and effective way. Work on ways of building interpersonal relationships, and recognize that it will not be one-size-fits-all for different people with different goals.
3. Your Budget. Of course there are some costs for getting employees set up at home (technology, hardware, software, internet), but if you are able to reduce your real-estate costs, it’s less expensive overall to have employees working remotely. In a pre-pandemic survey cited by Forbes, the average real estate savings with full-time teleworkers is $10,000 per employee per year.
Reducing the cost of office real estate can free up cash for new investments and lead to a healthier balance sheet. The savings are potentially huge. Those who are willing to move to a virtual model could eliminate or drastically reduce real estate costs.
4. Labor availability. Before 2020, many shared services were restricted to hiring people that could come to their offices. As companies are now more open to hiring, onboarding and managing people virtually, the world is your talent pool. Most businesses will still have some offices, but it’s worth considering if you really need to be in a high-cost city to attract the talent or interact with clients? Perhaps you could you be in a suburb or lower-cost location.
It is also important to consider the legal side of employing people abroad. Ensuring compliance to labor laws, taxes, pensions and social security can make this difficult unless you have HR presence or third-party agencies to help.
5. Employees’ personal situations. People really are our most valuable asset, and sometimes the strategy will need to zoom in to the individual level. It’s important to understand employees’ home set-ups, health risk, availability of workspace at home, connectivity and level of desire to be in an office. Some people working from home may actually need to be home to supervise children’s remote learning and may request more flexible hours. Others might not be able to, or want, to work from home.
“We’ll never probably be the same,” Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human resources, recently said “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”
So who NEEDS to be in the office? Excluding work that has to be done in person or on secure servers – probably a lot fewer people than you might guess.
In a recent presentation, Dan Foley, Finance Shared Services Leader of Kier, said, “We’ve done a pilot and assessed everybody. We asked our team…28 questions. We found that 10%...should come back in the office.” Foley said this was based on a combination of factors including mental health, working environment, health and safety check, that they found they should be back in the office, and wanted to come back.
On another floor they have a hot desking area. Foley explained, “You can book the desk on an app and have an induction with social distancing guidelines. However, that is only about 15% of our workforce coming into the office. The rest, 85%, are saving potentially 10-25 hours a week. In some cases people are saving 5 hours a day by not commuting into to central Manchester.”
What might future models look like
We have had a work-from-home revolution. Virtual and remote working is almost certainly here to stay. This means businesses will need less real estate, and what space they have will probably serve a different purpose. Most companies won’t go 100% virtual as it’s important to remember:
- Not everyone will want to work from home, and, for some, it will simply not be practical.
- Some kind of in-person interaction is almost always beneficial for teams and people
- The right kinds of changes now can help improve the overall corporate culture
Susie West predicts a few different models including: 50% of your staff in 50% of the time, occasional (but more social) office days, or virtual working with quarterly or annual “retreats.”
A smaller, but different real-estate footprint.
For most shared services, you will need less office space. And the space that you do have can be re-purposed to facilitate the type of work that can’t really done remotely.
Most large businesses won’t go totally virtual and will need some dedicated Covid-19-secure work areas as well as safe hot-desking options. However, office space can be transformed and used to promote collaboration, meetings and teamwork. This may still be at the site of existing offices, or some space may start to move out to where employees live, perhaps in suburbs.
A focus on home set-up
It’s also important to look more at exactly how employees are working from home. In the immediate move to remote working, there was not a great deal of focus on occupational health, but as all this becomes more of a norm, the question will be what can you do to ensure employees have a good ergonomic set-up and aren’t going to burn out from working longer-than-normal office hours while perhaps juggling difficult home situations.
Governments will start implementing plans to ensure companies are complying to all employment law. Get ready for new occupational health requirements for breaks, working hours, seats, etc., and any laws that may apply if you are hiring people working outside your normal jurisdiction.
Location and work-from-home strategies need to ensure there are plans to make it healthy, safe and legal to work from home
The office needs a transformation
Large, complex enterprises are impressive institutions which have survived recessions, acquisitions, and now at least one pandemic. While there has been much wisdom in the leadership, it is now crucially important to challenge any old-school thinking that might prevent your organization from truly transforming.
Companies should envision what they want their ideal working set-up to be, and work towards that – not just tweak traditional models. Make way for a culture where people can meet virtually and be present when required. And embrace the fact that management styles will need to adapt for more flexible and more remote working.
What are your thoughts on office transformation? Join the discussion on LinkedIn.
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