Bart Donné, WESTPOLE’s General Manager, shares his view on the ‘new normal’ work environment, and how WESTPOLE tries to counter disadvantages and cultivate the advantages.
No need to tell you that hybrid working has become the new normal in no time. However, many business leaders still have questions about how exactly this mix of telework and office work should be organised. Employees who are given more autonomy will be more motivated, more productive and more engaged, right? On the other hand, with 100% home working, there’s a greater chance of isolation, and in extreme cases eventually burnout. In other words, how do organisations create the right balance between the digital and physical workplace?
WESTPOLE’s corporate structure is still relatively ‘light’, but there are several departments that have their own specific work schedule and structure. Bart Donné adds: “My job is, in the first place, to support each department and accommodate everyone’s needs, keeping in mind the company’s strategic goals. This global health crisis has shown us all a brand new reality: hybrid working is here to stay. People don’t want to go back to the situation as it was before.”
Opportunity instead of skepticism
Even before the pandemic, home working was allowed at WESTPOLE. Our consultants are often on the road anyway, or working at our clients’ premises for extended periods of time. But when things went ‘viral’ early 2020 we followed the government instructions: home working became compulsory.
“Luckily, the absenteeism was relatively limited. We could keep our service levels up to their normal standards. We more or less immediately installed a ‘stay in touch’-policy, where managers and team leaders were encouraged to contact their employees and check in on their situation on a regular basis.”
“Our HR-department also put a lot of effort into this, for instance by conducting a survey that measured our employees’ mental health and how they were dealing with the changes in their situation. We organised virtual and (whenever possible) live get-togethers where we talked about anything but business, rather than cancelling our team events, when that would have been the easiest solution.“
The golden mean
One ideal ‘new normal work balance for all’ doesn’t exist. The employees at WESTPOLE decide on their ideal balance, together with their team.
As a general guideline, WESTPOLE now promotes a 3-2 structure: 3 days in the office, 2 at home. This is, however, a flexible standard. When need be, everyone can alter this balance, for instance when one requires more private working time or, alternatively, needs more time in the office.
Hybrid working should never be 100% percent working from home. One can only create encounters on the work floor, much needed for people to work on projects across departments. That is precisely why 100% office work is not the ultimate solution either. A meeting in the middle of a productive morning, or complex project work, can really disrupt one’s concentration.
Bart Donné adds: “I’m sure this situation creates opportunities for some, as well as difficulties for some others. Whether it works out, depends on mutual trust, motivated employees and autonomy. I’m more of an office kind of guy myself. I can’t put the same nuances in a virtual meeting than in a meeting held in person. No virtual workshop can replace the energy that live trainings can generate. However, the experience shows that, in some cases, team members are more productive when doing the right kind of work from their home. Some can intensify the collaboration with their clients by alternating live and digital meetings.”
“Overall, regardless of the situation, I think we managed well. But we need to stay alert and we have to keep looking out for those where it doesn’t work out. The ‘stay in touch’ policy for managers, hopefully, will absorb most, if not all of these cases. But it’s safe to say that these are challenging times for employees and for managers.”