There is no turning the clock back on hybrid workplaces. Many of our people have spent the last two years working from home, letting go of their heels, taking breaks in the middle of the day to walk, go to the gym or surf and dressing up from the waist up. They don’t want to let this go.
There is a lot of excitement about what this future world of work will hold. At the same time, there is also a lot of trepidation.
Will it shock you to know that over the coming months, my team and I want to create a model where we move to a nine-day fortnight? Why am I doing this? Because we can. It’s about creating workplace stickiness and becoming more competitive in a tight labour market.
There is no one-size-fits-all, and there are specific challenges we do need to consider as we move towards this model.
I found that at the start of the pandemic, our people focused on getting the work done, connecting with each other and doing the best we could to move our in-office culture to our new virtual world. However, as lockdowns dragged on, it became harder and harder to stay positive and connected via little screens on laptops where invariably one of us was always shouting — “You are on mute!”
Productivity started to suffer, as did the mental health of our people, and we were not able to provide any physical support.
When we bought on new recruits, it was difficult to embed them in our culture — how we do things around here. Mentoring was impossible, as was the organic transfer of knowledge when you are physically in the office.
Regardless of how hard we worked to bring the team back together, like many businesses, we, too, suffered from the great resignation toll.
Moving forward, we are reimagining how we work, and this, in turn, will have an impact on the culture we evolve into. The importance of collaboration days is now critical; we cannot come together just for meetings.
In addition, redesigning the physical space of work to somewhere where people want to come becomes critical.
As a leader, I like to walk the floor. I can tell how a person is doing by talking to them. It is something I do every morning. Virtual connection takes much of this away, and it becomes a guessing game. Giving immediate feedback becomes impossible because you don’t hear or see interactions. Team connection can deteriorate to the point where you run the danger of being ships in the night and never seeing each other physically.
There can be increasing fault lines between those who are at work and those who choose to work from home. Sharing of information and small conversations get missed by those who are working from home.
Don’t discount the time we spend chit-chatting while making coffee or just before a meeting. This is the stuff that builds connections.
Without a strong sense of connection — and when location is taken out of consideration — it does make it easier to leave an organisation and the people you work with.
As leaders, we need to ensure that we work on this piece the most. Building bespoke hybrid workplaces must take into account how your people connect with each other and the business.
As an industry, we have done wellness poorly. We burn the candle at both ends, eat poorly, drink a lot and rarely exercise. Add high levels of stress into the mix and we have the perfect ingredients for burnout.
Wellness of our people needs to become a business pillar; part of your business and people plan. Talk to your team about wellness days where you come together to meditate, do yoga, training on how to live a healthy life, manage stress, and breathing techniques.
Checking in with our people — where we ask if they are okay more than once — needs to become part of our conversations. Our people need to know that it is okay to not be okay. We need to create safe spaces for our people to be able to speak up, seek help and share.
A great weekly check-in with the team is to ask them to rate their energy levels. If their rating is low, find out the why — and how you can help to change this.
As you build your wellness program in your business, consider how you can add other incentives that your people will value. Build a stickiness with your business so it becomes harder to leave. Some of the areas I am working on or have already implemented are:
- Free gym
- Wellness retreats
- Membership in an industry-specific wellness app
- Day off on their birthdays
- Adding in additional leave rather than pay rise
- Three flexi days a year on top of their annual leave
- Early Friday finish
- Shorter working weeks — nine-day fortnight
Each employee also has a bonus structure. Our KPIs are simple and easy to measure. Our goal is to create a balance between business and wellness specific to the individual, which, when packaged up, makes us more competitive in the current marketplace.
I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, and this new world of work is challenging for leaders. Despite the challenges, we cannot choose to walk away from them. What we should be doing right now is sharing ideas and collaborating with each other on how we keep and attract great people into our businesses.
We have seen a loss of over 23 per cent of property managers from our industry — re-employment time frames are blowing out, putting pressure on existing teams, clients and business. It is also costing us significantly more in recruitment fees.
How we managed our people pre-March 2020 is not how we can manage them moving forward. Everything has changed; the balance of power has shifted. The issues we face today are not COVID issues; they are leadership issues.
COVID created the perfect storm, and we have simply got here faster than we would have done if we didn’t face a pandemic.
My suggestion to leaders is to do what I am doing: reimagining our workplace, finding out how my people like to work and helping them understand what the business needs are, then finding a win-win place for all of us to land.
Sadhana Smiles is the chief executive of Real Estate Industry Partners and the director of Harcourts Move.