Transitioning to a new way of working

Dr Kate Goodger Head of Human Innovation and Performance at Laing O’Rourke
5 min read

With the UK government having confirmed it will end the majority of lockdown restrictions today (19 July), and updates published by the governments of Scotland and Wales, businesses across the UK will have spent the last few days assessing how best to support their people’s return to office working. There is much to consider, including how this is done in a COVID secure way given the pandemic is clearly not over.

Like all contractors, we’ve adapted over the past 16 months to find ways to protect our people and maintain progress on our projects. In line with the CLC’s Site Operating Procedures, we have changed many aspects of how our sites operate and deliver work.

Key to this has been reducing the number of people on site, and this has meant embracing technology and shifting mindsets. Our teams have responded brilliantly to this and it has been impressive to see how productivity has been maintained.

From today, we enter a different phase and that means examining what the ‘new normal’ – if there is one - looks like.

As a recent McKinsey article pointed out, while the COVID-enforced remote working experiment has been surprisingly effective, employers are assessing how to balance the need for collaboration, creating the right culture and a sense of belonging. We think all of these are important to our success as a business in which multi-disciplinary teams solve complex problems.

At the same time, it’s natural that employees may feel unsure of what they want and are re-evaluating their relationships with work.

Recognising these factors, from today we are introducing a hybrid working model for all our UK employees, whether they are usually based at one of our projects, depots, factories or a main office.

The hybrid approach

The principle of hybrid working simply means to match the location to the task so that the right work is done in the right place. For it to be effective three sets of needs have to be met equally: those of the person, the team, and the business.

To give some guidance we’ve said that people should aim to spend 60% of their time in the office and the rest working remotely. This could mean, for example, some of our people spend 100% of their time in the office and the following week only 20-30%, depending on the work they need to complete.

We recognise this will not possible for all of our employees, in particular those directly involved in construction delivery, but we have learned a lot from trials of flexible working on our projects with the aim of providing some form of flexibility for every role. We have also stressed to our people the importance of discussing and agreeing how they deliver their work with line managers and keeping it under review.

Our focus as a business will be on how we best support transparency, productivity and engagement. Focusing on these outputs, rather than the inputs, will ensure we create value across all the work we do. We know we are unlikely to get it right first time and the months ahead will require us to try new things, learn and adapt. We will keep listening and act with inclusion and respect in mind.

Care and caution

As the Prime Minister has stated, the end of restrictions does not mean the pandemic is over. We have reminded our people that as a society we will have to manage the presence of COVID for some time, and as individuals we need to think of others and exercise common sense and personal responsibility. Therefore, on our sites and in our offices, we’re going to continue to proceed with caution and our COVID safe measures will still apply.

Over the summer, we will liaise with teams to understand what is working well, what isn’t and what else we need to do to help people adapt to a hybrid approach to work.

This post originally appeared in New Civil Engineer, 19 July 2021

Dr Kate Goodger

Kate was a performance psychologist in Olympic sport. She has a PhD in sports psychology and has worked with Team GB athletes at seven Olympic Games. She was pivotal to the historic medal-hauls of 2012 and 2016.

Joining Laing O’Rourke in 2017, she brought her knowledge of performance psychology and has been critical in shaping the company’s approach to capability and energy management. Under her stewardship the company has shaped and rolled out executive development and coaching, wellbeing initiatives aimed at site-based operatives, with a holistic view of hybrid working currently underway. It’s Kate’s ambition to develop a working culture that encourages healthy working environments allowing people to manage their capabilities and energy.