UPDATE

A few thoughts on post-Covid ‘WFO’ – working from the office!

July 2020

Dan Mannix

CEO, RWC Partners

As lockdown restrictions began to ease in the UK a couple of months ago, it became apparent that there were two groups at RWC who would need access to our London office faster than others.

The first group was working on the implementation of a new and important piece of technology for which a physical presence in the office was vital. The second group was comprised of those for whom working at home was suboptimal, and who could easily get to the office without using public transport. We worked, with our landlord, to make our working spaces compliant with social distancing and hygiene requirements, and they remained largely uninhabited for a further couple of months.

However, the last few weeks have seen final restrictions significantly lowered, and as the social lives of our people can begin to return to some sort of new normality, so can their working lives. We have decided that RWC will continue to be primarily a ‘Working From the Office’ organisation, albeit one that continues to empower teams to choose the working environment that is best for their people and responsibilities. So how to make this transition safe, comfortable and effective? The shift to a wider desire for more balance between WFO / WFH, scaled up or down depending on individual circumstances and schedules, is undoubtedly one of the many trends which has been accelerated by Covid-19. Although WFH has proved effective beyond our wildest dreams in many ways, there are so many other ways in which physical interaction at work is so vital to both our innovation and sense of culture.

Having ruminated upon our approach and seen how returning to the office has worked in practice, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things we’ve learnt.

  • There is a wide spectrum of attitudes to personal safety, both with regard to the office environment and how to get there. Further, everyone’s personal home situations bear different characteristics, risk levels and tolerances. Our respect for this is absolutely fundamental.
  • Making the first trip into the office is mentally harder than one might think. Many of us were last in the office on Friday 13th March. Four months out of the office in the midst of a global health pandemic can have a major impact on our emotional view of the office as somewhere to spend time.
  • The office needs a certain level of critical mass in order to feel normal, and to function as we’d like it to. I suspect many of us have missed colleagues and will be delighted to see them again, our people are our greatest strength, as so many great corporations love to stress, after all, and the sense of culture generated by physically being together is nigh on impossible to recreate virtually.
  • Video conferencing is much better when everyone has their own private station. It’s much less good when some participants are in a meeting room or at home, and others an open plan office. Many of our teams are looking at an approach to WFH / WFO which involves big team meetings taking place on dedicated days exclusively over Zoom, with the majority of participants joining from their homes. We have found this is actually a more inclusive approach for teams with members who tend to work remotely or are often ‘on the road’.

We have no doubt that we will all benefit from a more flexible approach to work, and it’s likely the WFH / WFO model will continue to evolve and shift for each and every one of us. We are all human, we will all go through events, both personal and professional, throughout the course of a quarter, a year, a lifetime that will mean we need to adapt the way in which we work. We now have the ability to provide that flexibility, but must remember that many things are done better face-to-face and we shouldn’t rush to dismiss the benefits of those things. It’s only as we have the opportunity to return to our offices that we will learn how the ‘new normal’ will be in practice. At RWC I think we will have ‘working from the office days’ where everyone is together and company meetings are done virtually as we’ve found engagement in such situations is much better with everyone in the same environment. 

I’m enjoying the conversations on this subject; we have learnt so much from this time at home, and I’m keen that we don’t just rush to ‘pick up where we left off’ but make sure we all use our working time as wisely as possible going forward.

A few key concepts we’re adopting below.

  • We have a colour system (red, orange, yellow, green) to indicate office status and have defined a few ‘house rules’ (use of PPE, number of people in the office at each time, how to greet visitors etc). We thought this better than a more general phasing approach given the differing circumstances of each of our people, and the unfortunate reality that we may go backwards before we go forwards again.
  • We have adopted a wrist band system where those who are feeling more cautious can take a band. Most of us are following the government’s 1m+ plus rule in terms of social distancing, but for those who would rather adhere to a 2m rule, the wrist band appears an effective way of communicating this.
  • Respect for each other at all times is paramount and cannot be stressed enough. People who are feeling less sensitive or vulnerable need to respect the rules and think about the language they use so others feel comfortable. 

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