Our London team returned to the office on Monday 6 September, a step towards us making a gradual transition to our new hybrid way of working. The excitement of seeing everyone again was quite surreal after 18 months of online interaction. It’s lovely seeing people outside of their screens on Zoom and being able to have face-to-face conversations again.
Already it feels like people are enjoying being back in the office, albeit in a safe environment. Whilst the huddle around the coffee pot, chat amongst desks and working in close proximity to each other is still not permitted, it’s a step in the right direction. Being back in London feels good again too, especially as we enjoy a fantastic view over the city.
Flexibility is key
The team is currently working on alternate weeks in the office, whereby everyone is required to come in for three days on their dedicated week with the rest of their working hours being continued from home. Whilst our office space will be occupied, it might not be by the same people all the time. So, if someone’s coming in for three days a week, it doesn’t mean that for two days a week the office will be empty.
The reason I selected this flexible working pattern is mainly to help the team transition back to the office as I appreciate it’s been a while since people have commuted and juggled their ‘out of work’ responsibilities. Also, it helps to minimise people in the office from a Covid-safe perspective which I know is an important factor when talking to the team. This flexible approach will also allow people to manage their caring responsibilities, something the pandemic has allowed.
I’m also mindful of how tough it’s been for the younger generation who sometimes learn more organically and those opportunities of talking things through informally can be missed - hopefully a welcome return for them from this perspective.
For me personally, I’ve made a commitment to come into the office every week, but this can be anything from three days minimum up to the full five days, depending on my work commitments. It’s important that I welcome back the team and meet with them face to face to catch up on workload, hold meetings and check in on their wellbeing.
What does the future hold?
Flexibility comes with a greater challenge in terms of ensuring the culture of the firm is both lived and embedded into the people. It also paves the way for retaining our talent as people have a choice of where they work these days, and that’s something I’m acutely aware of.
Therefore, this flexible approach is something that will stay in place until Christmas. After this I hope to see more people return to the office but that depends on government guidance. For now though, my thinking is designed to enhance a new way of working, reconnect with people again and see people in person so that we can all contribute to the generation coming after us. I wouldn’t want to see a world where not seeing people in person becomes the norm! Hopefully all of this will help achieve a seamless transition over the coming weeks.
Kathleen Harris is managing partner at Arnold & Porter, London