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.
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.
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!