Andrea Malcolm is the Executive Director of People, Homes and Communities at Bernicia, one of the region’s largest property management and development organisations, providing quality affordable homes across the North East. Recognising the need for change across their regional offices post-pandemic, they’ve worked with another Chamber member, MMC Research & Marketing, to understand what their teams needed. Here, in this article from our Future of the Workplace report, Andrea explains how they’re listening to colleagues and reshaping their space.
When the government announced the lockdown in March 2020, we responded by moving our workforce to remote working almost immediately.
Migrating our systems over to Teams in a matter of days was something that may have taken us months previously, but it showed just how agile and responsive we could be, and very quickly, all staff and the senior leadership team were working and communicating alongside pets and children but with giant uncertainty around our eventual return to the workplace.
Very early on, we were acutely aware that in order for remote working to be effective, we had to get it right and to get it right we needed to understand how staff felt about their new arrangements and help them look forward to what a “new normal” might be.
“We were acutely aware that in order for remote working to be effective, we had to get it right.”
We talked to our market research partner, MMC Research & Marketing, who stepped in to design a research protocol consisting of three elements – a survey with all staff, in depth interviews with various members of staff at all levels and desk based research exploring emerging trends within the market.
They got to work very quickly and asked questions we hadn’t even thought of ourselves, all of which led to a report that triangulated the three parts of the research and provided suggestions on how to take forward Bernicia’s vision for ‘agile working’.
The report gave us some really valuable insights. Firstly, we wanted to explore what agile working meant to our staff.The concept was alien to some, but others understood it straight away.One person summed it up as an environment where they’d be in the office for part of their week to collaborate with the rest of their team, but being empowered to choose when it was right to work from home on concentrated projects on other days.
It seemed that it was the feeling of being trusted and empowered that was important to people.
The survey told us that, in the future, 67% of staff wanted a combination of both home and office working.
While people had quickly become used to working from home, some seemed to miss the social interaction with their team. In fact, 35% stated that this was a huge negative to them.
One person mentioned that while they were enjoying the social interaction with their team members online, they missed the social interaction with others that they often bumped into for a chat, but didn’t necessarily work with.
Others struggled with adjusting to the new way of working and interacting on video meetings – one said “I’ve been in a couple of meetings and think no, I would have liked to have been in a meeting environment to talk about that. I would have probably liked to just sketch something down on a bit of paper, like a diagram or something, say “look, is this what you mean”.
These types of comments indicated that there was definitely a desire for collaboration to take place physically when safe and possible to do so.
Those that were adapting well to working from home mostly put it down to having more energy and balance to get tasks at home completed, alongside their day job. It seemed to me that those who carved out a routine early on were benefiting the most.The people that were working around the clock, and not setting boundaries or balance for themselves, struggled more.
One person stated “I can’t remember the last time I felt tired. I think of working in the office and I think of winter, red tail lights ahead of you on the drive home. Getting home in the dark. Now, I log off, I potter in the garden. My energy levels are much higher.”
Another said “I feel like I’ve got more freedom to manage my time more effectively … so I feel like, from a business perspective and mine, personally it’s benefitting them more, I’m more in control, I’m at my desk more, but I feel more empowered, and I’ve got more freedom to do more things I want to at the same time, so it’s a win for them and it’s a win for me.”
We’ve continuously taken the ‘wellbeing’ element seriously and we’ve ensured systems and activities are in place to support staff. We even had someone’s husband (who was a personal trainer) running some PT sessions online and managers have made it a priority to have regular wellbeing “check in” sessions to ensure balance is at the heart of their new way of working.
“We expect that agile working will be with us in some form from now on, but we also now know how important it will be to keep our employees involved and keep adapting to their needs.”
We expect that agile working will be with us in some form from now on, but we also now know how important it will be to keep our employees involved and keep adapting to their needs especially as we move through various lockdowns. Going forward we want to capture all the benefits of our newfound skills and flexibilities, and blend these with the aspects of our culture that remain important to our staff, collaboration, innovation and ingenuity, and face to face interactions. To achieve this, we have established a framework of ‘Core Principles’ to guide our approach and ensure that colleagues across our diverse operational areas recognise the valuable contribution they make to our overall success, that they continue to thrive, and that they have access to a range of personal development and career progression opportunities that continues to support Bernicia’s pipeline of exceptionally talented people.