What happens next? Our flexible, hybrid, ‘test and learn’ approach to returning to the office

08 July 2021 . United Kingdom

Written by Deepa Shah, People Director for Bupa Group.

Deepa Shah

The full lifting of Covid restrictions in England may have been delayed but I’m sure, like me, many colleagues in People teams are working hard to plan and prepare for what happens next. Our offices have been open for those who have needed them, throughout the pandemic, and we have stringent cleaning routines and social distancing in place. Now, with more people set to return once restrictions lift, we need to make ‘the new normal’ work for all our people.

I lead the People team for Bupa’s HQ in London and reflecting on the last 16 months, like most people, I find it hard to comprehend what’s happened, how much has changed and what it means for the future. In March 2020, lockdown created what some believe to be the biggest shift in human behaviour since the industrial revolution. The UK went from 4.7% of people working from home to 42% overnight and that number has been steady throughout Covid.

This has prompted a fundamental shift in attitudes to remote working. When we surveyed our head office team recently, for example, 89% of people wanted to come back to the office on a part-time basis, and only 1.6% on a full-time basis.

Globally, we have 84,000 colleagues who work in over 2500 premises, and whether they’re based in an office, clinic, care home, dental practice, store or hospital, they’re doing so with one goal in mind; looking after our customers, and achieving our purpose of helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

Prior to the pandemic, Bupa had embraced flexible working in our office sites but like so many other businesses, last March we adapted to it on a large, unprecedented scale for our office-based teams.

In each of our markets we’ve adapted to local rules, guidance and lockdowns, learning from each other along the way. Our employees have been productive at home and they’ve been positive about being trusted and having the freedom to work flexibly. This has led us to confirm where we were going anyway: the office doesn’t have to be the default for all work.

So, we’re developing a new hybrid approach, based on some key principles we’re using right across Bupa…

  • Customer – customer comes first and the type of work you need to deliver drives the location to deliver it
  • Trust – hybrid working will be based on a relationship of trust. We’ll treat people as adults and trust them to manage the flexibility appropriately
  • Choice – we understand that every individual has a unique set of needs and preferences, and we want to maximise choice to enable people to work in a style which suits them
  • Leadership – our managers will need support to adapt their styles to a hybrid workforce, and our leaders will need to role model the behaviours which enable hybrid working to be a success
  • Agile – we will experiment, learn fast and adapt as needed to get this right. We’ll also be data-led and listen to feedback.

In each part of the business we’re working through this challenge and having open conversations. In our Head Office in London, hybrid working will mean working both at home and in the office - where you work will be dictated by the work you are doing, rather than set days or patterns.

We see the office as a valuable asset we can use for co-creation, collaboration and maintaining relationships, not as a default place of work. This will give our employees a continuation of the many benefits they’ve felt from working from home – greater flexibility, more time with family (and pets!), improved physical and mental wellbeing, less time spent commuting - along with the face-to-face connections with colleagues and teams they’ve missed during the long period of working at home.

We’re continuing to work with our People team colleagues in all our markets globally to share learnings, feedback and best practice, because we’re all in slightly different places on this journey.

We don’t have all the answers, there are lots of moving parts and we know we’re learning as we go, but people appreciate the flexibility and the progressive nature of this approach. We’ll do all we can to support our people through the changes in the weeks and months ahead.