At Yard, things are constantly changing, but in many ways, the move into remote working wasn’t as big a change for us as it was for many organisations.

In January 2020, as part of our efforts to be a flexible employer, we had already embraced change, introducing a 20% remote working allowance for staff; our teams had told us this was something that appealed to them.  This meant we had established safe home-working environments and remote working risk assessments in place when the shock of Covid hit.

So, the exodus from the office in March 2020 was swift, and for us pretty seamless.  As a digital organisation, we had the benefit of being theoretically able to work anywhere, the challenge was to put that theory into practice.  At that time, there was little thought about appetite for change, the spread of Covid and the government guidance to work from home created a situation that necessitated rapid change and our teams responded.

Now, after almost 18 months of 100% remote working, we plan our return to the office. Understanding staff appetites for this is a key issue for us.  We have staff who have worked here for many years and staff who joined during the past year and have only ever worked remotely. We have staff who live a short walk from the office and others based many miles away, staff who live alone and others with large families. Perspectives are varied.

Gauging the collective appetite

So, when you want to know something, you ask; we surveyed and talked to all our staff and there’s certainly an appetite to get back into some measure of shared space.  To collaborate and communicate on a whole different level that for some reason, as good as they are, video calls and email simply can’t replicate.

Our people want to work together; friends and colleagues are looking to experience those water cooler moments again.  As managers and leaders, we want to harness the spark that comes from putting people together in a room – with coffee, and maybe even doughnuts!

Talking of appetites, whilst any office-based working remains voluntary right now, for those staff who choose to spend a day in the office (quite a few are starting to), lunch is on us, as eating together brings us together.

Coffee and doughnuts on an office table.

Embracing a mixed diet

But there is another appetite for change we cannot ignore.  Our staff have demonstrated that with goodwill, enthusiasm and some decent tech, remote working can be successful.  Having had a taste of a more flexible lifestyle, returning to a fully office-based diet is not something they want to live on.

When we asked the question, over 60% of staff were comfortable with the thought of returning to the office, with a further 21% indifferent.  The fact that 97% of our staff are either partially or fully vaccinated, along with a generally younger workforce, might have something to do with this.

By far the greatest concern about returning was not Covid, but a loss of flexibility (73%). No amount of hand sanitiser, mask wearing or deep cleans will help with that.  In fact, there was relatively low demand for some of the Covid precautions, with 42% against closing communal areas such as kitchens and 33% against compulsory mask wearing in the office.

From all this, we see a willingness to return, a reasonably relaxed attitude to Covid precautions, but a wish to retain the flexibility of remote working.  So, what will that return look like for our Yardies? Well, flexibility at Yard doesn’t only mean remote working; our staff benefit from flexible start and finish times around core hours, meaning staff can choose a working pattern to suit their lifestyle.

Planning the new menu

When we asked staff opinions, 67% of our team said it was reasonable to return to the office for the majority of the week, between 3 and 5 days.  When it came to each person’s actual preference, despite talk of crowded homes, limited workspace, patchy Wi-Fi, and various distractions, not a single member of our team wanted to return to fully office-based working.  Almost half (48%) preferred office-working for 2 days per week, with a further 27% preferring only 1 day in the office.

It was no surprise that 75% of our workforce prefers to tip the balance in favour of remote working, there has been time to adapt to it and benefits for staff in terms of time, money and the environment are clear. Perhaps the balance was too far in favour of employers in the past, with staff bearing the cost of commuting to an arbitrary office location. 

There is a real hunger for a pattern of working that delivers flexibility, respects home life and keeps working together fun.  The hybrid model, a mixture of office and remote can fit this, the challenge is in getting the balance right.  For the moment, our recipe for hybrid working is equal parts home and office, with a sprinkling of flexible hours. The team seem to have an appetite for this.

When we do get back to our offices, we believe the draw of events will play a part in the days people choose to spend at the office.  Whether that is built around end of month drinks, the weekly footie game, or just the chance to chat about life over a lunch, what will bring our people back together is the people themselves.

Ruth Kisby