The impact of a year of lockdown on our future of work

Part one: fostering creativity and collaboration with a hybrid workforce

While we’re pretty good at tracking upcoming trends, we can’t claim to have seen the virus coming. But we were fortunate in that we were already really well set up for working from home. And while many businesses struggled to adapt quite as quickly, they might feel like they got there in the end.

But this isn’t the end – it’s the start.

The remote working tech problem might have been solved for now, but employees want to retain some of the added flexibility they have enjoyed. Employers have not only to plan for a more hybrid workforce as workplaces start to open up again, but keep listening and planning as things evolve from then on.

With this in mind, we thought it’d be interesting to delve into some of the trends and challenges around hybrid working. We’ll start with creativity and collaboration, and then look at employee wellbeing and storytelling, with an eye on the technologies enabling this change.

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, got it right when he said in the FT, “Homeworking can starve us of many of these creative raw ingredients — the chance conversation, the new person or idea or environment.” Igniting that creativity, particularly against a backdrop of increasing employee burnout and the pandemic’s repercussions, is one of the main remote / hybrid working challenge facing many businesses. It needs tackling in a number of ways to keep employees engaged and excited in their roles, particularly as one in four workers plan to look for a new job after the pandemic.

Firstly, it’s about recognising that things have changed, and will continue to change, and therefore equipping people with the skills to adapt to the new model. At Brands2Life, we’ve introduced remote creativity training, for example, to give us all tips and tricks to help bring new ideas to the fore, whether we’re working in isolation, on virtual calls, (hopefully) in person later this year or a mixture of all the above. In fact the ‘all of the above’ is where we’ll need to work hard to remain creative and productive. We’re all in the same boat from home, but the dynamic will change when meetings feature mixes of real life and virtual participants. Those in the room will get the nonverbal cues; those in the screen won’t. We’ll all have to adapt.

Secondly, you have to encourage – but not force – time away from the desk. Led by senior team members, we get people to book regular lunch breaks into their diaries to ensure they get the time away from their laptops that’s needed to get some fresh air, perspective and give everyone the space to think. And even if they really can’t miss a call, they’re encouraged to do it while on the move (we totally buy in to this study from Stanford about how walking encourages creativity!). We’re already working hard on ensuring that our office environment evolves so people can easily collaborate away from meeting rooms, and we’re looking forward to more conversations outdoors in the summer.

Thirdly, comes the tech. It’s definitely part of the solution, but it’s not a panacea: having too many tools to manage is arguably exacerbating the difficulties in collaborating with distributed colleagues. And Zoom fatigue has been well documented. But Zoom, Teams and the like really should be our friends, not something we hate logging into. Using them to their full capabilities – such as using breakout rooms to break up brainstorms – can have a massive difference on both the experience and the end result. But don’t be tempted to add yet another collaboration platform to the mix without good reason. It’s going to be crucial to track how technology use changes in a hybrid environment, and ensure we respond to it.

And finally, make sure the forums are there for people to share their experiences and act upon them. While we’ve all been united by the pandemic, everyone’s experience of it has been different. The best ideas we’ve had to try keep people happy and motivated have all been from employees themselves, so keep the ideas flowing as we return to some form of normality and, crucially, beyond. Because the hard work starts now!

Written by Katie Turner, Deputy MD, Business & Technology