In this blog series, we look at best practice from companies across the world and how they are paving the way for a happier, more engaged and productive workforce of the future…

It’s fair to say that the pandemic has transformed the workplace forever. From the moment COVID-19 arrived in the UK, the ‘traditional’ workplace as we knew it was demolished overnight, as remote working became a legal requirement for all eligible businesses and people around the world swapped the water-cooler chatter for instant messenger.

Despite the very best efforts from employers to support their workforce, we’ve seen some reports of the lowest levels of employee engagement and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic.

However, born out of this depressing trend, we’ve seen a number of companies rise to the occasion and adapt quickly, using the difficult circumstance as an opportunity to honestly and critically reflect on their workplace/people strategies and reconsider their way of working long-term.

As the UK gears up for the complete removal of all COVID-19 restrictions, careful attention is being paid to the corporate world to see what the long-awaited ‘new normal’ looks like for the workplace.

In this blog, we’ve picked two companies that have nailed the return to the office in different ways…

It is no surprise that Google is one of the companies that has been praised for its flexibility and willingness to adapt, as the tech giant has often been at the forefront of workplace trends and ranked highly for employee wellbeing.

In May 2021, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai confirmed in an email that following employee feedback around their workplace preferences, Google had decided that employees can choose their own work schedule going forward, backtracking on their plans for all colleagues to return to the office in September.

According to Pichai, the company expects about 60% of Google’s staff to adopt a hybrid model approach to their working schedule, spending three days in the office and two days out wherever they choose. 20% of staff will work in the office exclusively and the remaining 20% will be remote working permanently.

“Many of us would also enjoy the flexibility of working from home a couple [of] days [a] week, spending time in another city for part of the year, or even moving there permanently,” Pichai wrote. “Google’s future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities.”

While many companies have announced complete rehauls of their flexible working policies, Google’s approach went that extra mile by allowing colleagues to inform the company’s policy. By keeping their colleagues up to date with their plans and asking for their opinion on how they’d like to see the business go forward, their workforce is completely bought-in to the process, and will be more at ease about returning to work, knowing it’s on their terms and their employer has made that their priority.

Another great thing about this approach is that by surveying their employees, Google also answered a widely-debated question by proving that generally, most people do want to return to the office and would like a workspace available to them. Unsurprisingly though, this also proves that only the minority want to see a return to the old 9-5, 5 days a week norm, with 80% of employees craving greater flexibility in their schedule.
Whilst it is not realistic for all businesses, Google has set the tone for the rest of the working world, showing that the future of the workplace is bright as long as it is agile.

The future of remote working and is not a one-sized all approach, and by Google highlighting the importance of two-way communication where possible, hopefully many businesses will follow suit in prioritising the personal preferences of their employees.

PwC also make our list, as a firm that made waves in their employee wellbeing agenda throughout the pandemic. Throughout various lockdowns, there were growing reports that employees who were working from home felt that their diaries had become unmanageable. Workers had seen almost a 30% increase in the number of meetings in their diary since moving to remote work, likely a well-intentioned move to compensate for lack of physical presence.

PwC set a companywide goal of shortening meetings by 25%, encouraging managers to cut hour-long appointments to 45 minutes to allow for refreshment and follow-up.

Acknowledging the detrimental impact of Zoom Fatigue you can read our blog on that here, PwC also encouraged employees to block out Fridays after 12 pm as protected, non-bookable time on their calendars. This was to provide some uninterrupted time for anything they chose – whether that’s focusing on a specific piece of work or going for a walk – knowing they won’t be missing anything else.

In April, PwC UK’s Chairman, Kevin Ellis, announced that all staff will be receiving an extra week’s salary in May’s payroll as the firm’s way of saying thank you to its staff for their hard work and dedication to client commitments throughout the pandemic. This was the second piece of good news for PwC colleagues, following an earlier announcement of an extra paid day off in May for staff as another gesture of recognition.

This move is a great motivator as well as preparation for employees to return to work, safe in the knowledge their hard work and loyalty is appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged by senior stakeholders.

PwC is another firm that has chosen to use the pandemic to shake up its working patterns. It will allow its employees returning to the office the ability to choose their own start and finish times, adopt a hybrid working model and this year will include a reduced working day for UK staff on Fridays throughout July and August, anticipating 22,000 staff will clock off at lunchtime after a more compact working week.

By making consecutive announcements during the weeks and months leading up to the designated return to the office, PwC is making it known that they value their employees and are dedicated to actively sharing success by reinvesting time, money and flexibility into their people.

If there is one thing all business owners should take from these examples, it’s that if you are able to make some big changes, this is the time to do it. When asking your colleagues to return to work, be as flexible as possible and communicate with your people and ask them what they’d like to see.

Need some support making your employees the happiest they can be? We can help. Contact us for a no-strings-attached chat about how we can help you today.