It was an interesting question posed yesterday after our article piece “Reset to Rebuild”. The point is valid; many do not wish to return to office environments as they were which were often quite sterile, lacking in culture and social interaction and where many saw leadership as almost a control function.
This last point came up in another forum we hosted on internal comms when a senior City professional noted that “young people will not engage and talk openly as they do not trust how leadership will use the information”.
Returning to the opening question, the challenge it has been noted is to create office spaces that do engage the millennial generations and are places where people want to spend time. Work patterns are going to change and the only way to ensure that people do return to offices is also to ensure that work once again places relationships first. Across a number of recent forums, it has been noted time and again that Virtual Conferencing will only be good to maintain a relationship; it will never grow a relationship. After all the troubles of 2020, it will be crucial for businesses to once again get out and rebuild relationships both with employees and with customers/clients. As relationships once again become central to success in business, this will naturally mean that travel will restart – both air and local – and that there will be a new focus on services.
It is a cliché to say that the world will never be the same again. It will. It will just be different. It will become a mix of new technology with old fashioned values returning to the fore. As it is seen that business relationships are key to a successful business, then executives will travel and spend more time in offices. It will be driven by a natural desire to get on and build. It is just going to require an adjustment away from the process led environments that have so dominated the last decade and return to the values, so often derided, of networking, of old fashioned values such as trust and care, of spending times with clients, of leaders, spending time with their teams and investing back into both culture and L&D.
Back in the 1990s, every research project on employee satisfaction noted that investment in employee development was the primary reason for retention. Research has shown that investment in this area has halved in the last twenty years, so it should no real shock that it is harder to retain talent.
We can not return to the past but we can learn from the past. The economy was rebuilt after the Second World War by a government that invested in the newly founded NHS and companies investing in their people and their social communities. This is a benchmark for what has to happen now. The 1980s saw an economic boom based off freeing up entrepreneurs, cutting process and focusing on relationships. The economy today is crying out for lessons to be learnt from both.
Work environments will need to change. They will need to have more “fun” involved. Many of today’s leaders who grew up in the 80s and 90s will talk of the fun they had, the mischief they had, their colleagues and the compassion of their leaders who helped them grow. Why should it be different now?
The average age of a CEO has increased by 14 years over the last 14 years. The US Presidential Election will be fought by two men in their 70s. When did it become a truth that age and experience = the best leadership? Many will note that Blair has been, for his faults, the best PM of modern times. He was in his late 40s when he became PM. Obama was 49 when he became President. JFK and Clinton were in their 40s. Lincoln was in his early 50s. Leaders also need to be to inspire and mobilise others. It is not just about age and risk aversion.
It is important to learn from the past but also work now on how to engage clients and employees for the future. As home working has become a dominant new theme, we return to the question posed:
“How do we make offices a home, a place where people want to be?”