Special Reports

Should companies ditch the office? A CEO’s take

office

Employees will spend 60 percent of time in the office in strategy aimed at striking a better work-life balance for greater productivity. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

musunga

Summary

  • People may miss the good not-so-old days of the coffee area chatter or catch-up lunch at the cafeteria, but they are also finding more freedom and flexibility.

In December 2019, barely three months before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) launched new offices in Ruaraka, Nairobi, with pomp and fanfare. Having been in our old offices since the 1970s, we wanted to make a transition that would give our employees a new lease of life.

We had engaged one of the best modern shared space designers to deliver a workspace with collaborative areas, silent rooms, tech stations, a modern cafeteria and a bar. Whilst we have had an open-door policy, this office set-up was crafted to deliver more than that. It would help us make greater connections with each other and drive better business.

Three months later, when coronavirus hit hard, we closed the offices to stem its spread. Like many corporates, we had to vacate our beautiful workplace and have employees work from home. For many of us, this change in our physical workstation became an everyday challenge. We set out to support our teams cope with the changing times — and this paid dividends with employee engagements improving.

Reflecting on this today, the truth is that working from home had been more of a cliché than an established culture, even with increased automation and digitisation of offices in Kenya and across the region. Many managers balked at the idea, but in the process, we have found ways to optimise our ways of working with three critical lessons emerging.

Flexibility

Firstly, today, more employees are flexible about when, where, and how they work. Some are choosing to work at the office while others have become adept at working from home, despite the reopening of the office three weeks ago, with full adherence to Covid-19 protocols.

People may miss the good not-so-old days of the coffee area chatter or catch-up lunch at the cafeteria, but they are also finding more freedom and flexibility. This may apply to many organisations across Kenya, and we are using feedback from such trends to shape our future decisions.

Secondly, our people have found a better way of working. Teams are becoming increasingly resilient as they are communicating better, employees are happier with their new workplaces— whether they are on Zoom calls, balconies or backyard gardens.

A recent internal survey demonstrated that 91 percent of our employees feel engaged and 95 percent are proud to work with KBL.

Work-culture

Thirdly, compared to the first few months of the Covid-19 era, employees are delivering ever higher productivity and achieving a better work-life balance.

Work-culture transformation is encouraging us to embrace the idea of remote working. While a majority prefer to work from the office in the future, we believe this culture of remote working will outlast the pandemic and hopefully translate to better outcomes for employees. Will the good old office remain a favourite for employees? We believe it will, to some extent.

We see a future where employees will spend time both at the office and at home. KBL is embracing a future with a ‘flex work philosophy’ with employees spending about 60 percent of their time in the office, where reporting times and leaving the office after work will also be flexed.

This model recognises the role the office plays in reconnecting with colleagues.

Overall, whilst the changes in the workplace have taken a toll on the contemporary employee, this pandemic has speeded up flexibility on ways of working and stimulated decision-making in the workplace for the better.

For the leaders, this presents an opportunity to unleash the best from our colleagues. With technology on our side and workplace compassion fuelling employees’ well-being, the future of work can only get better – and we will emerge stronger from this pandemic.

Mr Musunga is the Managing Director, Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL).