Need For Community And Collaboration May Drive A Shift In Office Space Use Following Covid-19
A survey of employees at Suncorp New Zealand, one of the country’s largest insurance companies, has revealed that community and connection (79%) and collaboration and problem solving (66%) are the main drivers for employees wanting to return to the office at least part time following a period of working at home due to Covid-19.
Catherine Dixon, Executive General Manager of People and Culture at Suncorp New Zealand, said the survey was one piece of data that the company is using to plan how it may work in future.
“We need to be prepared to work within the limitations of Covid-19 for the foreseeable future,” she says. “But what the pandemic has really highlighted is the importance of continuously checking and adjusting our way of working. The world changes, and what works now might not work six months from now, or may only work for some people.”
Dixon says the technology for employees to maintain connections with their teams worked well but it wasn’t seamless, with 39% of employees citing issues such as wi-fi connection as the main challenge with working from home.
“Technology offers a lot of solutions, but in many instances it’s no replacement for face to face contact – it’s important for our people that we get the balance right.”
Part of the solution will be how businesses use office space in future, Dixon believes.
“As a business we will need to adapt the use of our office space to suit a more dispersed style of working. For example, we might need fewer individual workstations, but we might want to repurpose some of that space for larger team areas or hubs.”
The survey was conducted in early August to understand how the shift to home-based working during lockdown had affected employees.
Dixon says the business was surprised to find that half of its employees (53%) were interested in continuing to work at least 80% from home. 48% felt that a more even split (working between two and four days a week in the office) would be most suitable due to technological, physical and social considerations.
“What we have found from this experience is that for many of our people, working from home is viable but that it is not delivering the connectivity and collaboration they really need - and for that they want to be physically present in our workspaces.”
Transport, hygiene and work-life balance were some of the main reasons employees gave for wanting to work from home at least some of the time.
Dixon believes that going back up alert levels a second time – which happened after the survey was conducted - was a much smoother process for the company, but it created a lot more anxiety and uncertainty for employees which may increase the need for in-person connection over time.
Prior to Covid-19, 87% of Suncorp New Zealand’s workforce had indicated they had the right degree of flexibility to enable them to balance their work and life commitments through a range of options such as working from home or adjusted hours.
“Suncorp’s existing culture of flexible working stood us in good stead this year - when the country went to alert level four in March, 90% of our people were enabled to work from home within 48 hours.
“Now we are reflecting on how the pandemic has affected our productivity, wellbeing and ability to support our customers, and how we can evolve our way of working in future to strike a balance that will meet the needs of our people and our customers.”
Dixon says one of the major enablers of a dispersed or flexible workforce was leader capability.
“There are lots of factors that we need to work on as a business to ensure that we’re supporting remote workers to stay engaged and productive, including technology and even contractual arrangements. But ensuring our leaders are supported and capable of leading dispersed teams is critical.”
Dixon says workplace flexibility and outcome-based performance is a key part of Suncorp’s culture, and that staying engaged with employees to balance business and employee needs will support the company to be more resilient to future crises.