This week marked the re-opening of pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes, as we all took a collective step forward towards “normal life”. While some of us spent the day in beer gardens, hair salons, or even the gym, many others will have spent the day back in the office.
Northern Power Futures have been leading the conversation around what this long-awaited return to the office might look like. We partnered with BNY Mellon to organise a Power Circle across industry leaders based in Manchester, to get their reflections on the last year, and their insights into how we move forward and build back an idea of normality together.
The circle was introduced by Northern Power Futures founder and CEO Simone Roche, and Denise Graham, Lead of the Manchester site at BNY Mellon. Denise spoke of how thrilled she was that BNY Mellon could have facilitated such a vital discussion across a broad group of individuals: “We are really delighted to provide a platform to bring together senior leaders across Manchester to discuss such an important and current topic […] Work as we know it has forever changed, and we now have the opportunity as business leaders to rethink and re-design our future workplace”
One of the key topics discussed throughout the Power Circle was how our relationship with technology has been forced to adapt over the last year. Christine Hewso spoke of the benefits of a digital range of working options, describing how in her own organisation “we’re exploring different types of technology that can augment the people who are not in the office, to try and make it feel more realistic”. Despite the benefits of technology, other Power Circle participants wanted to highlight the downsides of technology that have presented themselves over the last year. For example, Dr Marilyn Comrie commented on the overwhelming amounts of communication and information we have all received over the last 12 months, and how this has led to “people feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they’re getting on a daily basis. It’s about getting that balance right between communicating and connecting but not doing it in such a way that results in overload”.
Power Circle participants also expressed their views on how young professionals have been affected by lockdown restrictions. Michelle Lobb spoke of how virtual platforms would struggle to replicate conditions needed to train a new member of staff. “My biggest concern is the young people and how we’re training people and bringing them through, because they’re our future and we all know trainees learn from hearing what other people are doing”. This sentiment was echoed by Victoria Leigh: “We notice that our juniors aren’t getting the full experience that they would normally do”. In terms of how we take this into account during our return to the office, Karen Johnson advised that stability and security would be a major factor in reassuring younger employees: “I think it’s going to be a critical factor for a lot of them that they have the ability to work in an office with people. The biggest concern that they have at the moment is “when we return to the office who is going to be in the office to help and support me””.
Another issue raised across the Power Circle was the need for a flexible approach and a deep understanding of individual needs as we return to work. Dr Marnie Millard spoke of the need to continue the flexibility we’ve seen demonstrated throughout the pandemic, saying that “when you suddenly start to take away that choice or those options from people, that’s when you get challenges”. Sharon Amesu also spoke of how we need to prioritise “a more collaborative mindset in terms of the way we work and being willing to learn from how other people are doing it”. However, despite the need to maintain this flexibility, other Power Circle attendees expressed their apprehension about the practicalities of rolling out flexible working in larger organisations. Debbie White expressed that “A one size fits all model is not going to be the way forward”, while Victoria Leigh maintained that “I think there is a bit of a balance to be struck between what works for an individual and what works for a team. It’s quite hard to manage everyone’s expectations and desires with what is right for the business as well”.