The office - the new (old) home of the old boys’ network? Not unless we let it.

Ellie Herriot

23

April

2021

There are a number of surveys such as this example showing that men are more likely to return to the office than women. Commentators are arguing that the reason for this is due to the increased domestic labour demands on women. This is leading to concern that offices will return to the old male dominated environments and many years of progress towards inclusion will be lost. 

With the diminishing physical presence of women in the office those that are there may feel more excluded when they do go in and those who are working predominantly from home may be more likely to be passed over for the best work and opportunities. I accept this logical argument – we have all seen the statistics that women have taken on a disproportionate amount of the increased domestic burden both in respect of childcare and elder care that the pandemic has demanded. We have also seen the figures showing that more women have been made redundant or put on furlough.

So yes, there is a risk that workplaces become less inclusive, but it is not inevitable. I believe we have a choice and if businesses and managers make conscious considered choices, we can make progress rather than regress. Everyone has seen different pros and cons about the obligation to work from home over the last year. One huge pro is that flexible working is no longer a woman’s issue. Enlightened managers in enlightened businesses see working from home has benefit for all including the business. As mentioned in Matt Dean’s recent post, flexible working was originally considered in light of statutory requirements, but now you can set your people and policies free! The new hybrid workplace should seek to bring the best out in everybody both individually and collectively. So here are a few top tips:

1. Do not assume anything – you may think that your single male colleague in their twenties is desperate to get back into the office and the 38 year old mother of three wants to stay at home but you do not know that is the case unless you’ve asked, and they’ve told you. And as a slightly older mother of two I can say that the idea of a day in the office is quite appealing!

2. Once you have your plan with each employee (and we are going to talk a lot about how to do this in our our session on 29 April) notice what is happening in your teams. Do you have a trend of particular groups of employees working in a particular pattern? If so, why, and how can you mitigate the us and them or the missed opportunity?

3. Be careful that your new flexibility is not just a new rigid – everyone must work in the office on X day will work for some but not everyone.

4. Think of flexibility on every level – it’s not just working from home – it’s where you work within the office – even the CEO of HSBC is hot desking now. It is also about when you work and how you work.

5. Most importantly notice, ask open questions, listen and adapt - this is not one giant step after which we are going to be in a new fixed world, it is an ever evolving ever changing, exciting new way of working in which everyone can thrive.

People are powerful – who would ever have thought we could manage what we have in the last year? This new world should be about conscious choices taken small step by small step, which are reviewed and considered to create a workplace where everyone’s voice is heard and equally valued.

If you'd like to learn more about how we're helping organisations make the shift to the hybrid workplace, join us for our webinar on 29 April: Summer of ‘21 and beyond: the human-centred workplace.

You can find more resources and information about how we're helping organisations with the shift to the hybrid workplace here.