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28 September 2020 5 min read

Workplace flexibility as competitive advantage

Rob Maguire

Rob Maguire
Partner | People and process excellence | London

Nadine Marshman

Nadine Marshman
Consultant | People and process excellence | London

Over the last decade we have seen an increasing concentration of jobs within Europe funnelling into a small number of cities, with 43% of jobs being created in cities where just 20% of the European population are located. The pandemic has created a jolt with the potential to slow or even reverse this trend.

As remote working becomes increasingly common, the pool from which employers can hire opens up; the best person for a given job could be working from the Hebrides or the westerly coast of Cornwall. With a sheer limitless search radius, competition for relevant talent and skillsets increases. With that however come challenges of making a geographically dispersed, remote, and diverse workforce work.  

This article examines three areas that organisations will need to address in order to adapt to a workforce with a hybrid office-based and remote workforce, and to turn such workplace flexibility into competitive advantage. 

The physical workplace 

As organisations settle into a new remote-by-default way of working, the role of the physical workplace has come under scrutiny. Motivated by family and personal commitments, a better work-life balance, or the availability of a comfortable and productive working environment, 54% of employees indicate that they would prefer to continue working from home. 

This contrasts with the situation for many other employees who live in major cities, where shared accommodation and small living spaces are the norm. In a pre-Covid life, their workplace provided them with what their home environment could not: desk space, a quiet environment, and a sense of community.  

With office space priced at a premium in major cities, organisations may be tempted to cut costs and reduce office space because of remote working preferences. But before hasty decisions are made, this step must be balanced against the needs of the remaining 46% of the workforce for whom the physical in-office workspace still plays an important role. For them, having access to an office may present competitive advantage in attracting the best talent.  

In a post-Covid era, organisations need to consider what is important for their on-site as well as off-site workers, and what resources need to be planned for. Policies, contracts, and costs for both will need to be assessed, compared against each other, and used as a basis for overall hiring strategies and decisions around office space. 

Driving outcomes that are aligned to a vision 

Employees, both on- and off-site, will increasingly expect to be able to work under their own terms and in their own time. They will expect greater freedom, empowerment and an improved work-life balance. This can lead to happier and more committed workers, and result in greater productivity and creativity. However, with physical proximity no longer an enabler of aligned purpose, businesses with a geographically dispersed workforce will need to ensure that the company continues to have a shared vision and strategy, and that they are successfully translated and embedded into the new ways of working and company culture. 

As leaders have less direct visibility of their team’s activities, a geographically distributed off-site workforce necessitates a greater degree of trust. Leaders will need to shift their mindset from directing to empowering their people to enable team performance. Communication, transparency, and trust will be key to realising this, balanced with the right measures and controls in order to manage operational risk, particularly in regulated industries and processes. 

Fair and consistent performance management  

Physical presence and informal relationship-building can potentially give onsite-employees a perceived unfair advantage over remote workers who might also be subject to unconscious bias and assumptions of lower performance despite results. 

A shared vision and greater working freedom will need to be supported by a fair and consistent performance management process for all employees, independent of their location. 

As some, but not all employees return to the office, organisations will need to re-examine their frameworks for performance management and ensure that they are able to continue to assess their employees in a fair and objective way. Salary and benefit calculations, as well as contractual requirements will also come under scrutiny as the importance of location-based grades declines. 

Conclusion

Most organisations have proven that they can be as effective and productive when their staff are working remotely. The challenge now is how to reset to a new baseline that enables an organisation to drive the same outcomes for their diverse and distributed workforce through a personalised and unique approach and embed this wholesale into the culture of their company.  

Those that do this successfully will be able to attract and retain the best talent, create advantage over their peers and establish an environment that can adapt and shape to the Future of Work. 

 

About the authors:

Rob Maguire is a Partner and leads Baringa’s People and Process Excellence (PPE) practice. Nadine Marshman is a consultant in Baringa's People and Process Excellence practice. 

The authors would like to thank Verity Harrison, Helen Moss and Krystina Warrington for their contributions to this article.