Trust and the future of work

The last 12 months have undoubtedly created challenges and revealed differences in workforce set ups as we’ve all adapted to working during a pandemic. The unprecedented nature of the last year has also opened up important discussions about the future of work and now presents businesses with an opportunity they can grasp.  With the easing of restrictions on the horizon, the demands of the post-lockdown workforce will be on the minds of many.

Our team at O2 Business set out to understand how expectations and working practices have changed during the pandemic. They’ve today released research that shines a light on what employees want and reveals the situation faced by businesses coming out of lockdown.

It uncovered the divided demands of employees; only 10% of workers want to be back in the office permanently while 16% are thriving at home and want to make it permanent – the remaining 74% want their perfect mixture of both. It’s not just differing preferences over where they work, but also when they work. Post-lockdown, 85% of people want some form of flexibility over the hours they work.

This shows a dramatic shift in attitudes and opinions in one year, and that there is no uniform approach that will work for everyone. Some thrive at home while others have missed meeting colleagues at the office. The research suggests that the vast majority of people are “mixers” and see the benefits of working from a mixture of places, be that the home, the office or elsewhere.

Businesses must now prepare to meet the changing and diverse needs of their workforce because the stakes are high. Around a quarter (26%) of employees who have applied for another job in the last three months say it’s because their current employer cannot or will not accommodate a change in their lifestyle. It’s clear businesses must evolve their mindset to ensure they continue to attract and retain the best talent – just as we do at O2.

We have long had a strong heritage of flexible working at O2 and our approach has always been based on trusting our people to do the right thing.  The benefits that trust has for an organisation and its employees are no secret – reducing stress by 74%, increasing productivity by 50% and generating 29% more life satisfaction.[1]

With such varied needs of the workforce exposed by the pandemic, a trusting environment will allow everyone to work in their own way and at their best. To build a culture of trust, businesses need to embrace and empower frank and open conversations and hear what people have to say to establish what’s best for a team, the individual and the needs of the business as a whole.

Our established approach to flexible working, and the trust we’ve long placed in our people, meant we saw O2 employees adapt quickly and productively to 100% home working throughout the Stay At Home guidance from the government. Whereas other businesses may have seen a seismic shift in workforce trends – increased normality of flexible working, increased trust-based leadership, redefined view of productivity and performance, importance of health and wellbeing, criticality of diversity, importance of social connections via digital tools – there was less impact on our people. In O2 these were ways of working we had established. As a result we hold a strong position amongst the growing trend of hybrid working as lockdown restrictions lift.

We are particularly proud to have led the way with our industry-leading care and family policies.  These were designed to empower parents, adopters and carers to create set-ups that provide them with the flexibility and time they need to balance work and home life commitments – something our people tell us they really value. The pandemic has also shown us that diverse ways of working contribute to our inclusive ambitions. For example, with our internal mobility programme Evolve we have been able to open up opportunities to some of our retail colleagues that would not have previously been possible because of their location.

As a business we also lead the industry with our bold green commitments. We have pledged to be a Net Zero Business by 2025 and hybrid-working will see reduced commuting which has great benefits for the environment.

Looking to the future, the message is clear; no one size fits all.  That’s why at O2, we’re not going to introduce new rules or create mandates around hybrid working. It’s never been how we’ve done things. Instead, we will continue to be guided by the principle of trusting our people to enable them to be at their best and most productive. We’re committed to creating a fair workplace, listening to individual needs and responding to them and working in a way that is best for our teams and for the productivity of the business.  We’ll support our people with the tools and technology they need, to enable the flexibility that suits their working lives.

Across the UK it’s likely to be a gradual journey for businesses over the next few months however I urge HR leaders to follow our lead and look now at the opportunities it can bring.   Putting trust and true flexibility at the heart of your future of work strategies will attract and retain talent at a crucial time.

[1] Harvard Business Review, 2017 https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust#:~:text=Compared%20with%20people%20at%20low,lives%2C%2040%25%20less%20burnout