The office will always have a role in a future-fit BT

On the 23rd March last year, when the UK’s towns and city centres fell silent and offices lay empty, the scramble for so many of us to adopt new ways of working from home became real, literally overnight.

By and large, society’s ability to manage these huge shifts in such a short space of time has been a resounding success. This is thanks, in no small part, to the connectivity we provide and the efforts of our 45,000 key workers who worked tirelessly to keep the country connected in its greatest time of need. It’s also down to people’s ability to adapt, survive and thrive in adversity.

Maintaining this level of resilience over a prolonged period takes its toll, though. The pressures on us all have been gruelling, not to mention for those who have paid the ultimate price and lost friends and loved ones.

As the vaccine kicks in and things get back to normal, exactly what that normal looks like in the context of our working lives is a really important question and a difficult one to answer.

For some, working at home has brought welcome changes to work life balance, saying goodbye to the commute, providing an opportunity to spend more time with family. For others, it has been more of a struggle due to their living arrangements or simply because they miss the personal interaction of the office and don’t like being confined to one place. And for the majority, it has been a blend of these two ends of the scale with the answer lying somewhere in the middle.

The arguments on the future of work are well-rehearsed but they are largely focused on the preoccupations of people in management or professional level roles who are juggling families, school runs, managing a household, etc.

All are entirely valid concerns, of course, but less is said about those at the start of their careers or new joiners who want – and need – to build confidence, learn how their teams work and successfully navigate a large organisation such as BT. These things can’t necessarily be taught but they can be learnt; and largely by osmosis, which in an office is easy. Doing so from the (dis)comfort of your bedroom is much harder.

Think too of the lasting friendships and future professional networks that are built when starting out in a career or at a new company. Yes, it’s possible to network from home but it’s certainly more difficult to build deep, lasting relationships virtually than in person.

The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all answer on the future of work. Every organisation is in the same boat – this is uncharted territory – but all businesses will need to figure out the best approach to suit their needs.

At BT, we’re adopting a hybrid approach to how we work; internally we’re calling it ‘Smart Working’. Teams will choose how and where colleagues work depending on the team’s and their customers’ requirements. For some colleagues – many of our engineers and retail colleagues, for example – working from home won’t be possible as their roles require them to be serving our customers out on the road or in shops.

But for everybody at BT, we still see our shared workplaces as very much central to the company’s future. They will be places where colleagues come together to connect, collaborate, learn and develop, build friendships and share their experiences.

We’re not prescribing a set number of days or a minimum requirement for people to be in an office or work from home. We’re empowering our teams to ensure that customers are at the centre of their decisions.

When the pandemic broke, BT was already planning to move to a new set of state-of-the-art locations across the UK; each designed with inclusivity in mind to enable all colleagues to collaborate and innovate. Our new offices will harness the positive lessons of how technology can bring greater flexibility for our people with tech-enabled smart meeting rooms and workstations, powered by full fibre broadband and fast wireless connections.

We remain absolutely committed to this UK-wide programme which is the largest of its kind in the country and will see us consolidate and improve our workplaces from around 300 locations to around 30. We have started moving into our new location in Birmingham, Three Snowhill, and we will be moving from our current London HQ in St Paul’s to One Braham, Aldgate East, before the end of this year.

Together, our new Smart Working approach combined with the move into our new state-of-the-art workplaces will prove an exciting combination for all our office-based colleagues and new recruits.

Our offices will be the place our graduates and apprentices learn from more senior colleagues and where new joiners will learn the ropes, meet new teammates and bring fresh thinking to drive growth in our business; they will continue to make a significant contribution to their surrounding micro and local economies; and above all, they will be the place where our teams come together to foster collaboration and creativity that will deliver for our customers.

Our role is to ensure that BT has the best workspaces available and smart, modern ways of working so that no matter where they are, our people can be at their best.

Alison Wilcox, Group HR Director, BT