Workplaces today, more than ever before, are faced with a changing landscape. The impact of Covid-19 has been both universal and unique, a shared experience that has a wide range of consequences for how, when and where we work.
We sat down with the Office of Government Procurement and Tesco Ireland to hear not only about this impact but their thoughts on the implications for the future of work. To start, we spoke to Kathryn Whyte, head of people and culture in the Office of Government Procurement (OGP).
What are the main opportunities and challenges you see for organisations in how they craft their future workplace?
I think organisations have naturally needed to be quite reactive as they faced a very challenging set of circumstances, but now need to reframe and look to the future to develop a more strategic approach. Within the OGP, we utilised our existing people strategy, Empower (engagement, making a difference, positive mindset, opportunity, wellbeing, expertise and recognition), to help us embrace a more flexible way of working. Several elements of our strategy facilitated this, ranging from engagement – giving everyone a voice – as well as making a difference which links purpose to work, to a focus on our people’s wellbeing and also recognition that work is based on meaningful outcomes, not just hours spent in a building.
For organisations, this is an opportunity to now engage with employees to reframe what is required from the employer, as well as by the employee. In a world where remote working is likely to become increasingly prevalent, employers will need to ensure that time spent in the office is more focused on opportunities for collaboration and building the relationships that will sustain a sense of connectedness to, and identity with, the organisation. Awareness of self, as well as other’s preferences are key to creating trust and psychological safety within teams, where people can be innovative, in a safe environment.
In crafting the workplace of the future, what kinds of things should we consider?
One size does not fit all and that is something I am very conscious of, operating within the wider Civil Service, where many of the roles are public-facing and are centred around delivering the best service to the public. Organisations, and the teams within, need to be agile in how they approach “coming together”. Technology is an enabler here and can really support more agile ways of working, allowing teams to collaborate and interact in a medium other than email. In relation to our 2020 Great Place to Work results, my colleague facilitated a series of virtual workshops using an interactive engagement tool, Menti, to enable more interaction and give everyone a voice in the online setting.
I think it’s important to recognise that leaders need supports too, particularly guidance on how to lead remotely and how that differs from what went before. In the new remote environment, one really important way we helped nurture the leadership behaviours needed to build trust across the organisation was to put in place online leadership supports.
What are the potential rewards for individuals and their organisations?
While enabling access to remote working, as one element of a broader array of flexible working, it will ensure that talented people see the Civil Service as an attractive option, it also has positive implications for individuals such as additional time to spend with family, contributing within the community and enhanced wellbeing, with the reduction in commuting time.
For me, the really big differentiator in the future of work is purpose. The impact of the pandemic has really caused people to pause and consider whether their work means something – does it inspire them to get up each day? In the OGP, we’re fortunate to work with the whole range of Irish public sector organisations and so can often see the concrete positive impact of our work in people’s lives such as procuring ambulances and other vital supports to our national response to the current crisis.
The biggest opportunity for organisations is what comes with trusting your people, empowering them to be more innovative and switching mindsets towards outcomes and impacts, rather than hours worked.
We also spoke to Maurice Kelly, people director in Tesco Ireland who are going to be recognised for the fourth year running as a Best Large Workplace.
What has been Tesco’s experience of new ways of working?
It’s clear that the past 12 months have accelerated thinking around future workplace design and employee experience – the restrictions enforced due to Covid-19 have given many organisations the opportunity to experience remote working on a large scale and identify the benefits and challenges for their respective businesses.
In terms of the office and support functions at Tesco Ireland, we have seen the benefits of our office-based colleagues working remotely in terms of better control of their time, work/life balance and many people telling us collaboration is more efficient. Some of the challenges we have seen include helping colleagues to switch off/disconnect from work and people missing the social interaction we enjoy through our work in an office environment.
The main challenge is maintaining effective collaboration and knowledge sharing that is critical to enable your business plan – right now that presents an opportunity to redefine how and when we most need to collaborate and build ways of working and rhythms around that.
For workplaces that aren’t office-based like the retail store environment, we are led in the same way by feedback from our colleagues and, in addition to enhancing work/life balance, colleagues are seeking support on learning and career development.
Some organisations have updated their remote working policy but it’s much more than that, isn’t it?
I’m a strong advocate of a principles-based approach. Policy development in the area of agile/flexible/remote working tends to focus too often on what is off-limits and in practice discourages employees to seek flexibility or support. Leading with a principles-based approach, supported by minimum policy, works best from my experience. The principles speak more to your intention as an organisation and what is possible. The policy simply puts some shape on those intentions.
At Tesco Ireland, smarter and flexible working policies were already in place pre-pandemic, which meant we were already well-equipped to move to fully remote working for office colleagues. We are now looking to build on the high levels of trust already in our culture by empowering colleagues more around when, where and how they work – that ultimately ties back to understanding when we need colleagues to collaborate. For our frontline retail teams, remote working isn’t an option but we are constantly evolving our approach to make flexible working a core element of our colleague experience across the board.
What practical advice would you give a leadership team on how to manage the change?
The employee experience is personal. Start first by consulting your employees. This conversation must be led from the top. Leaders need to set the tone, demonstrate an open approach and seek out the art of the possible. For our retail stores and distribution centres, the culture of flexible working is growing, and we’re working hard to listen to our colleague feedback on this.
We have had a great experience recently engaging with our office teams directly on what we could do better to address short-term issues in remote working under national restrictions but also with an eye on evolving our model for remote working in the medium term – we have already started implementing many of the recommendations from our teams in areas such as wellness, flexible working, enhancing technology and internal communications.
What are the potential rewards for individuals and their organisations?
For individuals, the opportunities are primarily around empowerment, taking more control of their work and integrating their work and personal priorities. For organisations, the opportunities focus on building better engagement (organisations will find that by listening more, the feedback is richer), bringing clarity to roles and responsibilities which ultimately leads to better objective setting. Finally, the future work environment will require a better understanding of diversity and inclusion and gives organisations the opportunity to raise the bar on being truly inclusive.
If you’d like to hear more from these organisations on this topic, we will be hosting a Great Place to Work Expert Panel Webinar at 10am on March 24th. More details will be available on greatplacetowork.ie
This article originally appeared in ‘Best Workplaces 2021‘ a Special Report from The Irish Times, published March 2021.
Click here to learn more about Special Reports from The Irish Times.