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How do we structure the unstructured workforce?
By Andrew Hirsch, co-founder, WorkL For Business

Without the thrill and hysteria that Lockdown 1.0 brought (baking sourdough bread, so-called ‘house parties’ and pub quizzes), there is now a growing monotony that has infiltrated our lives. But how is this impacting the way we work? Are we all really more productive working from home? I doubt it.

The winter’s dark days might give some people the excuse to never get out of bed or their pyjamas. Zoom calls from the head up mean employees can pretty much get away with working from bed. But we all know this isn’t healthy. Having no structure to your day can be damaging and it’s an employer’s duty to help support their workforce right now. There is a growing need for business owners to provide structure to people’s working lives.

Some people will have entered the workforce just as lockdown 1.0 began. If it’s their first ‘proper’ job, how are they meant to understand what a structured day looks like? No commute, no meetings, no lunch breaks or ‘watercooler moments’. They’re probably more bereft at the lack of after-work drinks. Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at The Bank of England talked at our summit in October and explained the importance of social capital – something we have lost. We learn from people around us but if there is no-one around, there is going to be a gap in their understanding of what a normal working day constitutes.

So, how can we teach structure and motivate the workforce? Picking up the phone is one way managers can engage with their employees. Ditching the tech – stopping so many zoom calls – could help break up the day and allow employees to feel more motivated.

Ann Francke, Chief Executive at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) stresses the importance of communication. “The relationship between managers and their employees has never been more important. Lockdown has brought significant challenges, but these can be overcome with communication. Sick of Zoom meetings? Pick up the phone. Try to initiate communication that stimulates your employees and helps them get creative. This will help them stay motivated and connected.”

CMI's new research, Management Transformed, found that where you work has little impact on your productivity; instead, trust is key. Francke says, “where managers trust their direct reports, they find that productivity rises. When designing a new structure, building trust within teams has to be the focus. Delegate tasks to empower, prioritise personal communication, and replace presenteeism with a focus on value-add. Employees treated like this will feel very trusted, and will go above and beyond for you.”

It’s important to understand what we have all lost from not being in the office. The lack of commute has been regarded as a triumph. Hurrah we reclaim 3 hours of our lives! But it’s not a triumph for our minds. Take being in a train carriage (albeit cramped). Sitting there seeing people get on and off – what are they wearing, what are they typing on their laptop, what are they watching on their phone? This all stimulates the mind. It nudges creativity. We could see hundreds of people throughout our day – at the station, the walk to the office, grabbing that coffee. We’ve lost this and replaced it with a day of staring at our own face, all day on zoom. It’s pretty terrifying to think that some people will only see 2 or 3 people on their screen all day. 5 days a week.

Big tech companies have embraced working from home and we’ve seen some, such as twitter and facebook, say that people don’t need to come back to the office anytime in the near future. But what’s the point of those offices with beanbags, pool tables and champagne on tap? These spaces were designed to make working lives more creative and thus more productive. Perhaps soon they’ll do a u-turn and ask people back into the office. Employees might even be clambering to get back on the slide and beanbags after staring at their own faces for a year.

To find out more about how we can help you and your employees, please get in touch with Andrew directly at andrew.hirsch@engaging.business

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