The team leader for Future of Workspace and Design at the UK bank spoke at MovePlan’s  roundtable discussion Navigating the hybrid highway – your roadmap to success.

Opening the discussions at the roundtable was MovePlan’s regional director Siobhan Byrnes, who said: “The general consensus is that we are facing a hybrid work model. But what does this really mean?”

Many global companies have already announced a move to a hybrid working model, with the BBC reporting in May that 43 of the UK’s biggest employers said they do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time, according to an article by the BBC.


Delegates at the roundtable listened to ways to ensure a move to this model is a success. “How do we ensure our culture and identity is still relevant?” asked Siobhan, adding: “How will we know our new model works at a team level and not just operational level? Is technology going to support us? It’s been supporting us very well for the last year but how will it support our future plans?”

She explained to those at the roundtable that employee retention rates can be a good indication of whether you offer a good place to work. “It’s about the culture and community and how well people feel supported and motivated and inspired,” she explained, adding: “It’s not just about the building you work in or where you work.”

“It’s about the culture and community, it’s not just about the building you work in or where you work.”

— Siobhan Byrnes

Many businesses are already considering what needs to be done to bring staff back to the office such as social distancing, sanitisation, desk booking, and increased hygiene measures. However, Siobhan encouraged business owners to also consider the wellbeing of staff returning to the office.

“Communication is key. People will want to know when they come in that everything is in place and the office is ready for their return,” she said, adding: “Some people might be anxious or nervous about coming back. Others, like myself, want to get back but there’s also an apprehension about that as people have got used to being at home.”

Measures being adopted by MovePlan’s clients include travel plans to operate staggered start times; moving to a paperless or paper-light office to declutter and create space; running virtual tours to show staff around a new building; or offering virtual packing sessions ahead of a relocation.

“It’s important to engage with staff, find out what’s been a good experience for them. But most importantly, have a flexible plan.”

— Siobhan Byrnes

What are the future plans for bank NatWest as they navigate the next steps?

Next to speak was NatWest’s Andy, who described the next year ahead as an “experiment”, explaining: “We are going to get some things right and we are going to get some things not right so we will have to tweak things.”

NatWest has already announced that it expects just 13% of its employees to work from the office on a full-time basis, even after the UK government’s work-at-home orders are lifted. Andy told delegates at the virtual conference that just 5% of its workforce has been identified as needing to be in the office full-time. Prior to Covid, approximately 35% of the bank took advantage of some type of hybrid flexible working and early estimates are that this will grow substantially over the next year.  NatWest anticipates that by November this year, more than half of its workforce could be working remotely.

However, office space will remain for people to work together, with the bank moving away from desks with fixed technology and desktop phones and introducing a higher percentage of collaboration and social space for all colleagues.

“There’s an urgency and willingness to getting back to meeting people in person.”

— Andy McBain

“A lot of people when they return to the office it will be about collaboration and working in a team,” explained Andy, adding: “There’s an urgency and willingness to getting back to meeting people in person. Everyone’s diaries are busy with meetings but there’s a desire to get round a table and have a cup of coffee.”

He told the attendees that NatWest has created its own app called Our Campus to notify staff and offer information about the facilities and building, with options to book spaces for meetings. Much of the office space will be transformed to co-working style space, with flexible booking options available.

“Remote working will be the norm for many colleagues and teams may not need a fixed base in an office building. We will create new types of space to ensure that teams can work together safely. Our offices will become special places for people to meet and network,” said Andy.

“Everyone is working from mobile devices now, particularly the younger generation they don’t even think about using paper. Most generations now are getting much more used to technology with everything being booked through apps. That is the way the world is moving,” he added.

Andy also explained how getting back to the office for collaboration and team meetings will free up time, with people needing to respond to fewer emails when they see others face-to-face.

“Covid has forced us to re-think how we operate and work and how we use that as an opportunity to meet the challenges of managing dispersed teams. Technology will help us to adapt. Now we need to re-think how to use our workspace. That is a journey we will go on. As we return to work, we will adapt to a more agile and dispersed way of working,” he said.

“Covid has forced us to re-think how we operate and work.”

— Andy McBain

Office space will be used for teamwork, training, celebratory events and somewhere to gather and share knowledge. “Anyone who comes to the office will have a purpose to go there,” said Andy. “For the vast majority of people the last year has introduced the advantages of working at home or the office – we went from 37% working from home to 95% during the peak of the pandemic – it has given  colleagues a flavour of what it’s like and now they can work out what the best blend is for them.”

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