Co-founder Mazuma
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Death of the 9 to 5: Creating a post-lockdown culture

Firms are now faced with the reality that once lockdown eases and we’re allowed to return, blinking and squinting, to the office, people may not want to go back to how things were before.

8th Jun 2020
Co-founder Mazuma
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Coronavirus has meant that a lot of people started working from home overnight. For some, the shift in mindset was minimal, but for others it was more of a challenge. Overwhelmingly though, people are saying that they don’t want to return to life as it was before. So is this the death of the 9 to 5?

The death of the 9 to 5

Let’s face it, that working pattern was never a firm favourite of millennials and gen z. It was already slowly shifting to more flexible working and a non-geographic requirement in terms of recruitment. However, there had always been a focus on a business having premises as its central focus.

When my business was brand new I was itching to rent office space so I didn’t have to work from my spare room any more. It felt like I had taken a step forward – and now I find we have gone full circle and I’m back to my home office (albeit without the need for a physical filing cabinet anymore).

The old world had a building as a single point of contact, a base, for most people. That includes my own company. As I have said before, even though we were set up for working from home for most of the people, some of the time, we had never had everyone work from home all of the time. For us, this was a baptism of fire – and it’s worked. As the owner, I’m now faced with some really interesting decisions to make going forward.

Permanently working from home

The first is the obvious question: what do I do if no one wants to come back to the office? We’ve already had requests from staff to make their home working status permanent.

My first instinct is to say that’s fine. So far we’ve been improving day by day with people working from home. We’re moving away from fixed hours and to more of an output based model for staff. If the work is done, I don’t mind what hours you keep (with provisions for covering client contact, of course).

From an efficiency and client service point of view, it really doesn’t make a difference to me. If my employees are happy, our clients are happy and work is to a high standard and on time, it really shouldn’t matter where the work is performed.

Company culture

What I’m struggling with is something that I’ve spent years obsessing over: company culture. Every business coach or mentor I’ve ever had espoused the importance of company culture. HR advisory services tell us about it in shiny seminars. There are numerous Employer of the Year awards and Investors in People badges that you can be accredited with.

In the old world, the cornerstone of all of those things was culture. And I’ve been racking my brains about how to deal with that in the future if we don’t have people turning up to the same building every day. Most of the company culture historically has come from being physically close to one another. So how do we create that vibe if we’re all working away from one another?

Here’s how I think our future culture might pan out if people chose to remain working from home.

Office banter goes online

First of all, we’ll need to synthesise the banter of the office. During lockdown, we managed this with scheduled team Zoom calls and using WhatsApp groups. Going forward we may look to install a company-wide chat feature to replace the day to day office chatter away from other forms of media like WhatsApp or Messenger. That will keep office chatter in the (virtual) office and allow people respite from it if they’re not logged in.

WhatsApp has been amazing for now, but if someone is on leave then it’s down to them to mute the group chat so they don’t open their phone to a barrage of notifications. A company-only chat feature would let people keep in touch during the working day and let them switch off when they’re off-duty.

I’m keen to keep the regular Zoom calls. They’ve actually provided great accountability and are swifter and more productive than in-person meetings for us. I think the occasional slight technical delay and lack of ability to read body language have actually gone from an annoyance to a benefit.

People have learned not to talk over each other, interrupt or waffle at the end of their sentences. As a team we’ve got really good at ploughing through the agenda quickly and efficiently and have made significant progress on projects that a few months ago I would have sworn had to be done face to face.

There’s also still the novelty of seeing people’s lives happen in the background. Pets, partners and bookshelves serve a handy reminder that we’re all real people and not corporate machines. I really enjoy the tiny glimpses into people’s lives that a Zoom call offers us.

Where staff used to pop out for lunch together or meet for a drink after work, they are now doing Zoom quizzes and interactive games online as a team. In the past we might have been tempted to book a day at an escape room for some team building work, but they seem to have made the concerted effort to manage this amongst themselves. I can’t take any credit for it though – I discovered that I have not been invited to the Friday night company “pub quiz”. I guess not wanting the boss to spoil the fun is one thing that hasn’t changed…

Recruitment strategy post-lockdown

Finally, we’re able to look at a totally new recruitment strategy for the company. We’ve realised that for lots of people, working from home is brilliant. And those who love it perform brilliantly while doing it – we don’t want to take that away from people. In the future, we’ll be able to widen the net for recruitment of staff to beyond the geographic limitations of our office. That’s something completely new for us and honestly, wasn’t really in our business plan until now.

I think there will still be a place for the physical office building for our company. There are some meetings and certain things that are best done face to face. And if there are people who prefer to work in an office environment, we can still provide that for them.

Ultimately I think that the office will be more of “use as required” in the future rather than the default location for our team. 

Undoubtedly, this might result in a culture shift in the company. The types of people who thrive working from home are not necessarily the same people who thrive working from an office. And that’s OK – it’s something I’ve been making my peace with over the last few weeks.

Culture really is something that can’t be forced in a company. It can only be guided and encouraged. Hopefully, we have the bravery to create a culture for the future as the world around us changes. And maybe one day I’ll get invited to the pub quiz!

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Replies (18)

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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2020 10:23

I have to disagree Lucy. The UK is not a 24/7 culture, which working from home could mean. I strongly believe that this is just a blip and normal business will return asap. The reason is simple, survival. China will take a bit of a hit then cheap stuff will once again hit our shores and the intuitive initiatives of covid-19 will be forgotten.
Let's just take a simple example. San Miguel can be bought for £1.50 a pint from supermarkets. It's circa. £4.50 in the pub. Will people refrain from drinking in pubs, no of course not. We have a way of life that takes knocks but always bounces back and, no doubt, millennials et al will slowly fit in. Yes there may be minor changes but nothing major. The construction industry, which forms a large part of our economy, normally leads the way and within a few hours either way sticks to the 9-5 scenario or maybe 7-3. So it's work, pub, home, and weekends work, home, pub. (not all, of course). Have a look around now. Things are getting back to normal. People working, demonstrations, people on beaches. The next week with shops opening (9-5), then restaurants and pubs etc.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
10th Jun 2020 14:00

John

Afraid I disagree, there is going to be a continuing work from home trend, it was coming anyway and Covid has merely sped up the process.

Offices will still exist but smaller, staff will come in for certain days/meetings etc and work from home at other times.

As for pubs/bars/cafes, a lot of them are toast and will not survive as the go to work footfall reduces, chunks of the High Street will be similar. You just need to look at the share prices for the REITs with a niche in logistics/ fulfillment and compare with the more traditional REITs, the writing is plainly on the wall.

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By johnjenkins
10th Jun 2020 15:18

You are right but only to a certain extent. Buying on line was beginning to plateau, admittedly covid has increased the take. People were fed up with having to send things back and would rather look feel and try on, before they buy. Certainly eateries and the like will take a hit but only temporarily. Once people get the confidence back they will want to go out and have a "jolly up". As for working from home. There are certain types of business that suits working from home, again that will plateau and I suspect, once councils realise that rent and rates have to come down if they want revenue, the trend will reverse.
Let's look at it from the other end. Offices, high streets, shopping malls etc. become obsolete, a lot smaller at least. What do you replace them with?
So I agree with your thoughts but only on a temporary basis. After 1/1/21, Covid allowing, the UK will start to regroup and enter a phase of growth similar to "you've never had it so good" days. The reason why I say this is because there really is no where else to go cos we are not quitters.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
10th Jun 2020 18:03

Well, it is not really where the property professionals I deal with/read are seeing things going- optimism does not keep a property business afloat otherwise all the ones that existed pre 2008 would still be with us, a large number died from 2008-2015

I will be happy if the office market does recover as we , a property group, have little exposure to retail/leisure and much heavier office exposure, but I am not hanging my hat, or our business, on it- a quick back of an envelope has 34.7% of our rent roll firmly in the office sector, of that about a third might be converted into flats, I am still stuck with the rest which looks tricky if the market does dwindle.

The only positive is we are debt light and have a couple of assets that can be converted to alternative use that would generate more than enough cash to go debt free- but we are not that typical of private commercial property groups.

Hold on to your hats.

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By why always me
09th Jun 2020 10:24

I have always been firmly against the idea of working from home and would rather go in to the office but have to admit being forced to work from home has opened my eyes and now the thought of returning to the morning commute and office politics horrifies me.

I mixture of the 2 would be ideal, but need to see what is on offer when all this is over!

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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2020 10:37

Bit like coming back from holiday. Looking forward to training it in with all the "goodies" that go with it. (I used to commute many years ago). However I do feel that a workplace environment gets the best out of you. Internet banter is just not the same.

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By michael2012
09th Jun 2020 10:56

I think a crossover culture will work best such as two days office three at home. My work is far more efficient at home. I don't miss the commute, office politics or the standard office wear. I don't agree that it creates a 24/7 culture I'd rather start at seven and finish at three but accept this isn't always practical for clients.
Working from home gives greater flexibility and means my life is not being determined by trying to avoid traffic jams in the daily commute, so I can gain an extra 8 hours week from not having to do this. The downside is that unfortunately I don't think my employer will agree with me!

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By mkowl
09th Jun 2020 11:00

Certainly an interesting one - we have always worked fairly flexibly and certainly subscribe to the output based model not hours put in. Never been a fan of meetings about meetings

Saying that the office is a 10 minute drive away and with a house full of non exam taking teenagers and an older furloughed one, then given I had the safe social distancing option I took that so that I wasn't requesting quiet all the time

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By bendybod
09th Jun 2020 11:08

I have just raised with my staff this week the idea of any kind of return to the office and have been quite surprised at the eagerness to do so. Personally, I am enjoying fewer distractions and so feel I am being more productive. I accept, though, that once more than the skeleton staff are in the office, I can't be working from home 5 days a week.
Some staff have long commutes and so working from home on a more permanent basis might suit them. Some have children and so, again, some days from home and some days from the office might work better for them.
In the shorter term, I'm sure that something like 2 days in the office and the rest of the week from home will be the norm, probably from some time in July. Longer term, it might stay like that or it might just become more flexible.

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By tcowdery
09th Jun 2020 11:19

I had found some staff need the mental stimulation of working within the office environment, and others (especially with younger children) prefer the flexibility working from home has given them. I believe at least for my office we will have a more flexible approach post Covid 19 to the "must work from office attitude", and am looking forward to a busy future.

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By Gina2912
09th Jun 2020 11:25

For the last 20 years I have worked from home. The company I work for does not have an office base and never has. We do not have a 24/7 culture, I dont know if that is because when we started out this way, we didnt have smart phones and instant access to emails so maybe our culture evolved more slowly than would be anticipated now.
We have 15 permanent staff and around 40 staff on casual contracts and their home is the base for work. They are located all over the UK, home location has never been a bar to working for this company. We have had two people resign quite quickly after starting as they realised home working was not for them but everyone else enjoys how we operate and the flexibility it gives them. We do have face to face meetings regularly, largely in London but (having used Skype in the past) now use Teams for our online meetings and overall comms. We have worked hard over the years to ensure that staff do not feel isolated.
I believe we get the best out of staff because of the way we work, I know the company gets the best out of me especially as I am much more relaxed without having to think about a commute and office politics. It may not be for everyone and not all businesses could operate like this but this is our culture and it works for our business.

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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2020 12:18

As you have been working from home for the last 20 years then covid won't change the way you work. I don't think it will affect anyone's working practices too much.

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By Gina2912
09th Jun 2020 14:17

You are right about the impact of covid John. Our thinking has changed slightly in that we believe that we can have less face to face meetings and so less travel for staff (many who have had to travel long distances). We have improved our tech and carried out training while on lockdown. We are also looking at providing more of our services online. It has made us focus on the way we deliver our business so there will be some changes but we are keen to get back to normal as soon as we can. This is the positive we have gained from having almost £500k worth of contracts cancelled because of the need to social distance. We had to find a positive, right?

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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2020 15:17

A lockdown that has more or less put business on hold will have a more adverse than positive affect. Some will not even want to go back to work as they have found that they could probably live off UC. (that will be short term). So it is imperative that we get back to "normal" asap. The vulnerable have been identified so they can be protected. It is a known fact that children under the age of 18 either don't get it. (there are a very few that possibly have). So there is no reason why the rest of us can't get back to work. The WHO recommended 1metre social distance (which is more or less normal anyway) The longer the delay the more business will go belly up. We can go on the beach, have demonstrations without social distancing so lets get back on track.

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By Manek Affilica
09th Jun 2020 13:36

Some types of accountants’ work is best done alone with least disturbance, such as data input.
However, the professional work of auditing and formulating strategies in the consulting process is predominantly a group activity.
The quality of professional work is optimised when the process includes spontaneous reaction of colleagues, uptake from body language, pauses for reflection and other face to face interaction.
Since professional work does require a certain mood and ambiance, it is unlikely the formal office setting and formal clothing could phase out altogether.
Besides, the comradeship and personal chemistry between colleagues are that ethereal ingredient that drives the one-off innovation in formulating personalised professional work.
Time will show but I doubt very much if human behavior will change drastically for the current upheaval.
Many years ago, a female school leaver joined my practice and liked the work but felt compelled to move on after a year because my practice presented her with too few work colleagues for her to find a potential marriage candidate!

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By Philipbwood
09th Jun 2020 14:25

AS MD of our firm (about 50 in total) I am all for working from home, and have found that the majority of our team also feel that way BUT there are some that don't, a few junior ones that feel the need of some physical presence to provide immediate guidance and some others for whom working at home just doesn't work - poor internet, insufficient space, too many distractions etc. There is also the physical need for some customers that are so used to just "dropping stuff in" that I think there will always be a need for some sort of office - although probably nowhere near as large as currently. So I think it will be a mixture, it will be something else we add to our flexible benefits policy and will enable us to recruit from a much larger geographic pool. We are also driving ever more day to day work on to the cloud (IRIS watch out!) which frees us all up to work whenever and wherever we want to. If the Government would just scrap HS2 and use a big chunk of the money to provide superfast broadband to all, not just those in city conurbations, then we would really be shooting forwards. There would be no need to traipse off to London on a regular basis, so that would sort out the capacity issue on the railways, which would allow more freight on the rail, less lorries on the motorways, nirvana - well a step closer anyway - and just think of the benefit to the eco-system, tree-huggers must be getting very, very excited just thinking about it

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By Pam Moreland
09th Jun 2020 14:25

I agree in part with what all of the responders have said. It is what works best for you personally and how this fits in with your clients and working life. My children are grown up so it is the dog who pesters me to play with him, not my children! I am in no hurry to get back but have been able to work remotely for a long time so the culture shock was minimal. I hate internal meetings - a complete waste of time - so being able to avoid them has been great. Zoom has been good for clients and our discussion group (although the dog tends to photobomb any meeting which amuses everyone) and WhatsApp suits our office better than Microsoft Teams for communication. What has been interesting is that it has proved that we can adapt, sometimes where we were told it was previously impossible. I shall go back, but no sooner than I have to and think I can probably work partially at home and partially in the office in future. The only downside is that clients all have my mobile number - but I can always switch it off at 6pm and weekends. What's not to like.

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By sspald.gmail.com
09th Jun 2020 17:11

It is fascinating that, as the author says, all of the gurus recommend that you work hard on company culture. Yet a good majority of respondents list as the 2nd primary benefit (commute as no 1) of working from home, the avoidance of office politics. A big disconnect or execution failure there?

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