Endless home office is not going to be a new global trend

Employees increasingly demand personal contact 

The coronavirus has created a new situation for businesses. Business leaders faced the challenge of creating a people-friendly yet productive and Covid-safe environment for their employees. Today, one of the key measures of employer quality is the ability to appropriately respond to the challenges created by the pandemic. Telenor and HR Fest organized a panel discussion featuring a journalist, an organizational development expert and an office market analyst to explore the ways of redefining work management in this new environment.

Less home office, more personal touch 

When the pandemic broke out, home office was the major trend. By the end of the summer, however, more and more people have returned to the office. The key reason behind that was the human factor, that is, the explicit need for personal contact and live relationships. Currently, businesses pursue different methods including home office and full return to the workplace. Some of them use a hybrid solution combining online and offline ways of working. A common feature is that most businesses now handle office space more flexibly than before. The time has come for employers to implement out-of-the-box solutions providing the most appropriate conditions for changing needs. 

“We are in the middle of the biggest transformation of recent years. Paradigms are overthrown on a daily basis. Being an organizational development expert, my greatest challenge during the pandemic has been to enhance the company culture, foster team cohesion and protect colleagues from burn-out and home isolation. Telenor has adopted a hybrid approach. We implemented a regime in which colleagues take turns in weeks ‘A’ and ‘B’ in the office. Monday and Friday are mandatory home office days for everyone that we’d like to keep also in the long run”, said Judit Endrei-Kiss, Chief HR Officer of Telenor. She considers the office a communication platform, a key component of the employer brand and believes that there is a clear need for personal contact now, as well as community spaces that double as meeting points besides being the place of work. A case in point is the Garden Office created in the garden of Telenor’s HQ upon employees’ initiative. The alternative garden office provides an opportunity to expand space and work in a safe outdoor environment to reduce the risk of infection.

Coronavirus from a different perspective: a threat or a challenge? 

There is an increasing need to improve employees’ sense of safety and support their mental balance and well-being. According to Hesna Al Ghaoui, journalist, reporter and former war correspondent, there are similarities between the current pandemic and a war situation. She believes that people’s mental adaptability is often key to their ability to cope in a critical situation. “The COVID pandemic was a shock for all. It forced all of us to leave our daily routine. As a result, now many people find their lives unpredictable. They tested their boundaries and many of them lost their sense of safety both in their private lives and at work. These things can be strongly impacted by the employer’s attitude. Much depends on the employer’s ability to provide a supportive environment and respond to this new situation in an appropriate way,” she said.

Executives and decision makers need to speak up, because people usually consider their leaders a role model. In a crisis situation, their attitude is of special importance. In such a situation, admitting vulnerability can make leaders credible. Evaluating the subject from a social policy aspect and analysing the physical and psychological effects of fear, Hesna Al Ghaoui said that fear can erect walls between people, but it can also unite them if the community can communicate honestly about their fears. She said that fear is an important indicator that can improve your performance but this often depends on whether you view a given situation as a threat or rather as a challenge that can be overcome by team or community effort. 

During the lockdown, businesses faced the challenge of building their corporate culture and community remotely, from home. “Our culture is based on the #oneteam philosophy which means that nobody is left alone, we care for each other. We’ve seen lots of positive examples of that during the pandemic. We had internal support groups of colleagues sewing face masks for shop staff, giving devices for digital education to each other and organizing food deliveries from the office canteen. We will benefit from the resulting sense of community also in peacetime,” said Judit Endrei-Kiss.

Office market changes: the rising importance of community spaces 

Although at the beginning many people thought that the lockdown will make offices a thing of the past, experts believe that the transformation of the office market will be a longer process in which traditional offices won’t have a place anymore. “The function of offices will change. What was infrastructure in the past is now a community space, the place of personal meetings, discussions and having a cup of coffee together. Therefore, new office buildings are designed with community spaces responding to new employee needs in mind”, said Dániel Fodor, organizer of the ‘Office of the Year’ competition.

Full version of panel discussion: 

Short version of event video: