The 'next normal' looms for workers - Hungarian firm appoints manager to get it right

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BUDAPEST, Feb 10 (Reuters) - For Budapest-based firm GRAPHISOFT, which makes software for architectural design, the time when workers can return to their offices has a name - the "next normal" - and managing it well is so crucial they are appointing a dedicated manager.

"If companies get this wrong they could kill themselves," said Huw Roberts, chief executive officer, sitting alone in GRAPHISOFT's state-of-the-art offices near the river Danube.

He wants an "idea broker", someone who can conceptionalise how people can return to the office or continue to work from home, how the firm should hire and expand in the future, given new habits of remote working, and synthesize new thinking on how to get the best out of people.

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Roberts said one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that it has forced management to rethink the basics of work.

Experts believe that this rethink could result in changes which create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

"One of the recognitions (is) that people got it done, from their living rooms, right? so maybe it is not perfect for everybody ... but clearly this sparks all sorts of ideas about what this means long term," Roberts said.

GRAPHISOFT advertised for the job late last year, but deduced finding someone who would see the big picture would best suit an appointment from within.

"It is going to have to be a highly collaborative effort," said Roberts, who hopes to fill the position within a month.

Strong communication skills and high emotional intelligence will be prerequisites for the new manager to help the company's 670 employees globally "ease into" the next normal, which will be followed by waves of additional changes, Roberts said.

He expects that most working will still be from home in the first half of 2021, but from July new practices could begin should vaccination programmes help ease lockdowns as planned.

The new manager's job will be to get the input needed for GRAPHISOFT to decide on issues ranging from facilities to HR. Everything, except issues relating to COVID safety, as that has been the responsibility of the Chief Compliance Director.

Most employees at the firm, which is part of the German Nemetschek group (NEKG.DE), have been working from home since March 2020. GRAPHISOFT had no layoffs or salary cuts last year, and even hired 60-70 new workers.

A survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and with over 1,500 employees and 200 employers in Central Europe showed that only 40% of employees expected to work on site after the pandemic. Among employers, this was even lower, with only 23% saying staff would work on site, the rest working remotely or in some hybrid solution.

If a company manages smart work well "people get more autonomy, they become more flexible, more healthy, more engaged, and this is an even bigger benefit for a company than (saving) 15% real estate cost," said Adam Kotsis, Associate Director, People Strategy at BCG.

Two crucial questions for Roberts are how to hire in future, as people can work not just from home, but easily from another country, and how their office space should change.

"Do we need a lot more private huddle rooms for people to come in and work comfortably by themselves ...or do we need more of the open office because the only reason they coming in is to be together... ?"

We are going to have many iterations as a company, and as a world, he said, as we go through the cycles of "improving what's next."

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Reporting by Krisztina Than Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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