August 18, 2021
Nicola Forbes-Taylor

On Blend with Nicola | Insights on the 'return to work'

For those who haven't met me yet, I'm Nicola,  OpenBlend’s Implementation and Success Consultant. I developed my skills and approach through my 15 years in business optimisation, generalist HR roles in corporate (O2, PPR Group and large utilities) and fast growth environments, including start-up tech (Huddle, Nutmeg, Onfido). I have qualified as a fellow of the CIPD, ILM Level 7 coach and psychometrics practitioner. 

We are on the path to returning, but I wonder what we are returning to? Return to normal…? Return to the office…? Return to the past…? 

The reality is that the way ahead is not back to what it was. As we move past the pandemic, I encourage us all to move forward, not back. Let’s consider our ways of working. Let’s think about our motivation. Let’s look at our working patterns and our engagement, and explore how these things are key to moving into to the future, not returning to the past. 

So what are we trying to return to? 

Return to Motivation 

Don’t go back to any organisational heritage of assuming people are only motivated by money. Money is important and will form part of many of your employees’ drivers, but there is much more to consider when it comes to motivation. OpenBlend clients embrace ‘whole person thinking’ to enable performance, looking at how different drivers work together to motivate an individual. Our experiences through the last 16 months will have impacted our priorities and changed what we are motivated by. Across our user base, our Top 5 drivers that need to be met in order to motivate people to work at their best are now: 

  1. Health & exercise 
  2. Time with family & friends 
  3. Making a difference at work 
  4. Money 
  5. Progression at work 

When it does come to money as a driver, it’s not necessarily the money itself that we’re motivated by. It’s what that money gives us. It’s our ability to enjoy life without financial worry (freedom). It’s a status symbol that illustrates our worth (respect). Money may be a motivator, but it has to exist in synergy with other priorities, as opposed to taking precedent over them. Again,  

Do you really understand what motivates your employees? Your leaders? Not just one aspect of them, but as a whole person? On average, OpenBlend users spend 33% of their time in one-to-one manager-employee sessions discussing their individual work/life blend and what motivates them. Our motivations are unique to us and impact us in different ways. This innovative insight informs how OpenBlend users plan and deliver work together, in a way that is driven by and owned by the employee, but mapped to the organisational ‘big picture’ with the manager. 

Top Tips: 

  • Remind your employees to revisit their Blend and reset what impacts and drives their motivations. 
  • Encourage managers to touch base to take a fresh look at Blend elements, explore motivations in a post-pandemic world and discuss what ‘good’ would look like for their team members. 
  • Explore motivation in priority/objective/OKR discussions. 

Return to working patterns 

Many companies struggled with the concept of remote and flexible working prior to the lockdowns of the last 16 months. Perhaps there hadn’t been the trust to let people work from home, so you had never invested in the infrastructure to facilitate it. Or perhaps you had a flexible working policy, but working from home was the exception, rather than the rule.  

The majority of organisations shared that approach, pre-pandemic. Then in March 2020 our worlds changed, and the exception became the rule – and it didn’t end with lockdown.  

The Future Forum Pulse survey established that from over 10,500 employees, over 66% want some form of flexible working permanently.  

How about your organisation? Are you analysing the challenges and learning from the lessons we’ve all been experiencing? Is your organisation going to emerge from lockdown back to the ‘paused’ status quo of March 2020? Or are you reaching towards a new culture for 2021 and beyond? 

Top Tips: 

  • Start fresh: consider what has worked and what can continue to work or be built on.
  • Explore how your team members want to work and how they propose this can work.
  • Experiment: it helped us to get through this last year, after all. 

Return to engagement  

We can no longer rely on the dangling carrot of ping pong tables and unlimited coffee in the kitchen. Employee Value Proposition is no longer about offices and extrinsic benefits alone. Engagement is about our whole psychological contract and your EVP needs to embrace that.  

We need to view employees holistically: as people, not “resources”. I hope we have learned the value of this through our experience of lockdown. Forbes, in their article How the post-CoVID future will be different, said: “Companies have been forced to consider employee wellbeing more holistically—in terms of not only the physical but also mental and emotional wellbeing.” 

Yes, we have been forced to, yet some were already closer to that mindset than others before the pandemic. Going forward, it is these innovative organisations - the ones that recognise how strong engagement can transport an individual to connect with others in a virtual world, across different locations and even time zones - who will lead the way. 

Organisations that value engagement, and understand its role in encouraging team members to give that discretionary extra effort (both in the pandemic and beyond), maintain connections and work together as a team to achieve shared goals, will be the ones to flourish in a post-pandemic future.  

Top Tips: 

  • Involve employee groups to establish what is really valued in how you work together and support your team members.
  • Ask for suggestions, as well as what they would like to have as support or as a way of working. The world has changed. Let’s adapt with it.
  • Drive trust and transparency in one-to-ones with managers through regular OpenBlend sessions, where employees discuss progress on work, as well as their lives beyond projects and priorities. 

The world has changed. We can’t return to March 2020 - and would we really want to? We have new insights, opportunities and skills we can use in 2021 and beyond that can make our businesses, and our working relationships, better. 

Let’s not return. Let’s move forward, iterate and begin again, enabling performance in an engaged and motivated workforce. 

Nicola Forbes-Taylor, Implementation and Success Consultant 

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