Editorial: After-Covid - The New Work Order

In the Before-Covid (BC) age, life was different. An almost forgotten era when we traipsed through the office complaining about our journey in and worried about not having enough seats in the office.

In the After-Covid (AC) world, there is more time. We can speak to people when we need to, no longer valiantly sandwiching diary slots. We are liberated from unnecessary or unjustifiably long meetings. BC, we had already started Bezosian 50-minute meetings. AC, half an hour is plenty. Yet, at the same time, we’ve lost the ability to indulge in serendipitous water cooler moments that lead to bright new ideas.

Sifting through our diaries, proudly peppered with bike rides, afternoon runs and leisurely lunch breaks, we no longer feel compelled to show ourselves working from 9-6. Our calendars are sliced, speckled and stretched and yet we are working harder than ever, while interspersing it with other things that matter. We are no longer only seeing our kids on zombie weekday mornings and tantrummy bath-time witching hours.

Investing in people not property

Working from home is clearly here to stay. A recent study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that 32% of people are expecting to at least partially work from home moving forward.

In light of this, many large corporations such as Barclays, Nationwide and Mondelez have already announced that they are reviewing their real estate and moving to hybrid working models. We are seeing the beginning of the end of monolithic office blocks and with it the hierarchical working cultures that resemble the buildings in which they reside. Martin Sorrell has voiced his excitement at spending money on his people not property.

Yet our desire to brainstorm and meet our customers, colleagues and clients will remain. Local neighbourhood workspaces will win at the expense of city centre offices. Google is already looking for more local hubs for people to meet others. With the need for greater flexibility, there may yet be some salvation for the likes of WeWork.

Trusting teams the Timpson’s way

Many companies have discovered that their fears about letting go are unfounded, but still need to find the best ways to get the most out of individuals.

We were very lucky to squeeze in our Founders’ Collective before the lockdown where Sir John Timpson took us through his fascinating story in not only building a £300m empire but also in creating a working culture that is as trailblazing as it is relevant in today’s world. Famous for recruiting directly from prisons (12.5% of the workforce), the business spends an incredible £7m a year on nurturing a happier team.

Timpson’s only asks for two things of its branch staff – look the part and put the money in the till. He has made sure that the tills are analogue, not linked up to a trackable till system. It’s a relationship based on trust. A plaque in each shop says ‘our colleagues in this shop have my total authority to do whatever they can to give you amazing service’ and can spend up to £500 to settle a complaint. The focus is on empowering decentralised decision-making.

Personalised, mindful working

We believe that well-motivated and incentivised employees driven by a strong company purpose will do what is needed to get the best results. However, we also recognise that we all have different styles of working and thinking. Some of us prefer a quiet room to ruminate, others rely on the buzz of a team. Many are more productive than ever working from home in both their working and personal lives, while others feel isolated and anxious.

Universal working is becoming a blockage to productivity. More than ever, it is about recognising how to get the best out of each person. Doing so will encourage strong cultures to thrive and contribute to the commercial success of a business.

Ever mindful of understanding what motivates individuals, Timpson’s rewards employees in personalised ways through Their Dreams Come True programme – if someone is learning to drive, they will buy them driving lessons. In addition, their Hardship Fund supports those in financial strain alongside the ability to take birthdays and other important days off.

Likewise, many of our partner brands are finding ways to look after and get the most out of their employees, starting with free subscriptions to online fitness classes and mindfulness apps.

Bloom & Wild has gone further by launching its Work From Home Promise, committing them to promoting healthy working habits as a team. One pledge is around reducing video fatigue by having camera shy days as well as being mindful of who needs to be in meetings and how long they run for. Zoom etiquette is also translating to Slack decorum such as only sending messages during working hours.

Partner brands leading the way

To help us navigate these changes, we will be engaging on this topic with our founders and CEOs via our Leaders’ Forums. In our survey with 300 founders last year, half said that maintaining culture in the business was their greatest challenge.

We are also doing a series of short videos with team members at our partner brands. You can watch them by following us on the Piper LinkedIn page. We are working with our brands to envisage what workplaces of the future look like. There won’t be singular approaches. Those with one central office team will adapt in different ways from those with disparate teams across retail, hospitality and manufacturing. We hope that the solutions will incorporate the best of the behaviours and experiences BC and AC.

We are looking forward to getting the team together at our offices in Notting Hill from September and meeting some of you in person.