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Smarter working

Back in early April, shortly after we went into lockdown, I wrote a piece reflecting on the impacts of the change from office based to home working; Working from Home. In that I suggested that we should, as a team, sit down and look at the learning we could take from the changes we have been living through and put together a plan for when we emerge from CV19 that builds on the best and most essential elements of both home and office working. 

I’m pleased to say that we acted on that suggestion and developed what we have called our ‘Smarter Working Plan’. More than that, we not only wrote a plan, but we have been busy delivering on it. And, it’s bad news for Boris, city centres and coffee and sandwich chains, but good news for local town centres, our carbon footprint, work-life balance and productivity. 

To be fair, nothing in the plan is revolutionary or wildly radical. In my April article, I likened the overnight change in working practice to going to bed right-handed and waking up as left handed. I closed by suggesting that being ambidextrous is probably the best position if you have two hands. And that is pretty much where our plan has taken us. 

Subject to some variations related to team and function, the principles of the plan are to give a much greater degree of flexibility over how, where and, to a degree, when team members will work. This was consulted on and bought into by the team. Whilst most have actually enjoyed the experience of working from home and, in particular the togetherness that the company-wide video sessions have fostered, there is also a growing appetite for some much missed face to face time. 

In readiness for more office-based time, we have also moved quickly to reconfigure our office base. The fixed office spaces that we had in Manchester and Birmingham have been replaced with a more flexible ‘lounge membership’ of the serviced offices we were working from. In London, the change has been more radical. We have swapped floors within our building to an area half the size and are currently reconfiguring the space to suit a new way of working. 

In my April piece I mooted that the thing that we were missing most from not being in an office was interaction with fellow colleagues to build bonds and develop rapport. The next most important element is collaboration. Whilst much of this can happen digitally/remotely, some of the magic is lost when you’re not face to face. The pure act of working, doing the day job, can, by and large, happen anywhere. However, there are some amongst the team who can work more effectively away from their home environment, especially younger staff or house sharers. 

As a result, we are providing a mix of spaces with the emphasis on space for interacting and collaborating with space for working taking up less than half of the floor. We want to make the office a lively and exciting space where a trip to the office becomes something of an event, something to be looked forward to and an opportunity to catch up with colleagues and make very best use of the time together. 

As I noted, this isn’t so radical in the grander scheme of things, but for an SME with some great people, making the working day as enjoyable and effective as possible is a really key part of attracting and retaining more great people. 

And, why do we want to work with a team of great people? Because they help us do great things with our partners across the country and deliver some amazing projects. And, delivering these projects benefits communities directly and indirectly, creating new jobs, stimulating economies and delivering social value. 

In practice, that’s what actually motivates our team; doing great things for partners and their communities across the country and delivering exciting projects. Our Smarter Working Plan is no more than a tool to help us get the best from the time we’re working; the means not the end. 

How’s it going? Check back next year to see, CV19 permitting, how the new arrangements are working.