When the first pandemic lockdown happened last year, within two weeks 95 per cent of Vodafone’s 100,000 colleagues around the world were working remotely, keeping society connected. As we approach the anniversary of the first lockdown in Britain, this experience, feedback from our employees and real-time data have dramatically changed our perspective on how we work together, the future of work and the role of the office.
The big question is: can our “office” of the future be defined by flexibility, productivity and creativity, rather than location?
For Vodafone, our answer is yes. Across the group, about 60 per cent of our employees’ time typically is spent on individual projects or tasks and we know now that working remotely can be highly effective when working this way. The remaining 40 per cent of working time is enhanced when working in person in teams: co-creating, brainstorming, advancing projects or learning. These key activities still require an office.
The office will always have a role in how we work, but what it looks like — in terms of layout, size and location — will change. London will always be a core centre for us as a group because of the exceptional technology talent pool in the capital, but we also can see the power of a “distributed” model, with hub offices elsewhere in the country, to help to drive diversity and inclusion, reaching out to undiscovered talents nationally.
And, of course, our roles vary hugely across the organisation, from those who work in our call centres and in our stores through to our engineers and those in our head offices, so one size won’t fit all.
On one of the floors of our Paddington head office, we have already completed a mock-up of the new “Future Ready” Vodafone office layout with advanced IT capabilities to test these new working practices. We have pilots under way in the Czech Republic and Hungary, testing different layouts and optimising space and technology to support collaborative activities. In the Netherlands, Vodafone Ziggo is the first company to develop a long-term hybrid policy, putting working from home on an equal legal footing with office work.
These changes were driven by feedback from our employees. First, unsurprisingly, our colleagues told us that they were positive about remote working because it ended the daily commute. They saved money, got time back in their day and also had more flexibility in how they worked. Second, our data showed that productivity was not reduced by remote working; in many cases, it was enhanced. However, the flipside of greater flexibility was the expansion of the working day, as staff juggled other duties. There also were more virtual meetings, calls and emails replacing the informal and spontaneous interactions arising from office-based work.
We were aware that the challenges of managing family and work responsibilities, plus missing the in-person social interaction and that sense of belonging that comes from being in the office, could lead to an increase in stress. So, to help employees, we introduced health programmes and mental wellbeing initiatives, as well as practical tools to enable them to manage their workloads effectively.
One simple change was reducing 30-minute meeting slots to 20 in our system, to keep them focused and to allow for a gap between meetings. In addition, we have rolled out artificial intelligence software programmes that use machine learning to crunch feedback data and deliver personalised behavioural tips. To date, we’ve sent 700,000 of these tips to more than 70,000 employees.
With greater flexibility in our approach, we believe that Vodafone will become more attractive to people with different perspectives, from different cultures and with broader skills and experiences, helping us to create a leading global community.
The pre-Covid office concept for Vodafone is gone. Our focus now is making the future of work the very best it can be, enabling every individual to deliver their full potential and the best service to our customers. This is an opportunity to build back stronger and better.