Portfolio Exchange 2020: tips for building the workplace and workforce of the future

This great remote working experiment has helped us to reimagine how work is done and what role the office plays in it. As the landscape continues to evolve, might the way that we work going forward change forever? Inflexion brought together a panel of its portfolio executives to discuss their experiences.


Working from home is okay, and maybe even better.

Productivity can be improved with flexibility for most staff – but it’s crucial to recognise that there is no one size fits all solution and to ensure employees are set up properly for home working

Kelly Grooteman, CEO Calco: Flexibility improves productivity – I’m saving up to three hours a day by not commuting. The time I’m gaining can be spent on work or on my private life. In addition, I find that working from home inspires many to show more initiative as they want to prove they can be as effective remotely as they can be when working from the office.

Working from home doesn’t always work for everyone. Our sales team performed below average from home; they need interaction with their peers to be challenged and motivated.

Our more creative people, who get the best ideas by brainstorming in a live setting, started to ask more frequently if they could work from the office. We made it safe for our staff to work from the office and immediately saw an increase in productivity.

Paul Howarth, CEO Times Higher Education: It’s surprised many in the business how successful remote working has been. Variations in home life mean certain people are better set up for it, and we’re supporting those who need it.

The office isn’t dead, but it can be reconfigured to prioritise innovation and creativity.

2020 has shown many that the office is more than just a workplace. The future is likely to see employees prioritise flexibility, with time they do spend in the office as an opportunity for innovation, collaboration and maintaining the corporate culture.

Kelly: Many of our clients have already indicated that once they return to the office, it will only be for one or two days a week. In the future their office will function as a social outlet. We see that certain demographics seem to suffer more from a lack of contact. If you don’t have a partner or kids, work is a huge part of your social life. So the office needs to be a fun place to be, with more open spaces for sharing ideas and creativity not just a place to go and do work.

Richard Segal, Chairman at Peach

Losing the close interaction has changed the dynamics of businesses forever. On the one side, flexible working will accelerate considerably. On the other side, there will be pressure on maintaining a healthy company culture. It will take work to get the empowerment, engagement and collaboration established as it’s harder with people not in or only in occasionally.

Paul: Our average age is 37, and we have found employees who have a more established home environment are best placed to succeed working from home, whereas others need more support. Going forward, we’ll probably do 60% in the office and 40% out. We’ll use office as a physical event venue and make it more sociable meeting place for staff – and so we’re not paying rent for no reason.

Top talent is easier to access…

Appointing the right people to grow businesses remains a priority. Though in-person interviews are difficult, flexibility around scheduling and location have meant that processes are shorter, but more iterative and the access to top talent has been made easier.

Paul: It’s an employers’ market now. We’re making quicker decisions, faster than probation typically allows. We’re also being more flexible on where people work from, and together this makes the process smoother.

Richard: The last six months has seen us do some senior hiring and onboarding. Online greatly accelerates the process of recruiting as people are available that day or the next instead of in a week. What you miss is the social interaction and seeing them in person. Having a meal with someone is a great part of a usual interview process which has gone out of the window for now.

…but effective onboarding is key to ensuring success.

Corporate culture and engagement are harder to instil with a remote workforce and so onboarding should be a thoughtful mix of training as well as social interaction. This should be applied for all staff at all levels to promote wellbeing and loyalty.

Richard: Imagine the new joiners – not trained, not met any colleagues yet. How do you learn things? You can’t lean over and ask. It is important that people joining are treated better than they’ve ever been treated before because they’re really struggling from being cooped up at home.

Paul: We’ve seen churn in a short period of time and it’s of middle-management. The issue is they’ve not met their colleagues and so aren’t sure how to motivate them and manage in a matrix style in a virtual environment. It works for me as my title means I can ambush any meeting. But it’s much for difficult for others to exert influence in these circumstances.