There is only one thing we know for sure right now and that is that none of us have been through a global pandemic before and none of us know what is going to happen coming out of this.
In this article we’re not going to pretend to have a crystal ball. However, what we can do is look at what is happening right now and apply that to our knowledge of the world pre COVID-19, enabling us to make some educated best guesses.
I haven’t yet spoken to a business that hasn’t experienced sudden change of some sort as a result of Coronavirus. What is interesting is the variety of change experienced so far. Some businesses are busier, whilst others have seen their workload fall off a cliff. Furlough may have been applied to all staff, just some or none at all. Many people are working from home whilst others are still going into work with new social distancing and health and safety measures in place.
The range of experiences is vast and will depend upon industry and how the company was running already along with its culture. It shouldn’t be forgotten that when we are talking about a business we are in reality talking about people. What you do now in your business will impact how your business comes out of this.
So, what do we expect to see?…
Increased Remote Working
People have been calling for more remote working for many years, with the last year or two seeing big increases in fully remote roles as more and more organisations see the benefits. There was still a long way to go and it’s possible this pandemic will have just sped up the process.
There will be many organisations and managers who have fought homeworking. They’ve not believed it could work but will now be seeing that it can. Not only that it can work well, but that there are efficiencies in reduced travel time and potential rent savings from smaller office space requirements. Minds are also being opened in respect of opportunities to increase geographical reach in terms of potential employees as well as customers.
That said, homeworking isn’t proving to work for everyone. There are those who are missing being in the office. This may be in part because of the severe form of homeworking we’re currently experiencing. Whilst many have called this the biggest working from home experiment, we must remember this isn’t a completely accurate picture. It’s a good test of the technology and the practicalities of doing a job from home. However, this ignores the personal realities of not being able to experience the freedom of leaving our homes and the added pressure from children or other family members being at home. Not to mention the concerns about our own health and the family members we can’t see.
Overall, I do think we will see an increase in remote working in the future. There will be many situations where it will become more difficult to turn down flexible working requests. There will also be many employers who want to promote and embrace remote working. There are benefits of coming together for meetings, training and social events and some people do prefer to leave home to work. I don’t think we’ll suddenly see the end of the office, so a healthy mix will hopefully form.
Reduced Geographical Boundaries
One of the benefits remote working does give us is the breaking down of geographical barriers. When travel time is taken out of the equation, we can meet with anyone, anywhere in the country (actually, make that the world!). This will benefit organisations that can widen their customer base and attract employees from areas that they otherwise couldn’t when commutes have to be factored in.
Longer term where geographical barriers begin to breakdown, this could lead to recruiting people from different countries where labour is cheaper. This of course will have an impact on the local workforce and what jobs we might be doing in the future.
A smaller world gives companies more access to a bigger pool of talented workforce. On the flip side individuals will find themselves with more competition for jobs.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this further increases the gig economy or reduces it as the types of roles performed by people physically in the UK changes.
Increased Flexible Working
We’ve already talked about the increase in working at home and the changes that may bring to the physical location of work. We may also see an impact on the times we work. The pandemic hasn’t just forced workers out to their homes, it’s forced children out of schools and into their homes and increased the vulnerability of older people in society. This has resulted in a workforce who are blending working with homeschooling children or with supporting their parents. Even those who weren’t caring for parents before this have found themselves providing support such as collecting shopping and medicines. Not forgetting the generation sandwiched between children at home and parents needing support. These challenges have led people to find creative solutions to managing work and home, being forced to build flexibility into roles that didn’t have flexibility before.
If predictions are correct, even once lockdown is lifted social distancing will be required for some time. We won’t be able to crowd people into meeting rooms or even have as many people in the office. People either won’t be able to crowd onto public transport or won’t want to. It’s hard to see how society will go back from crossing the road to keep our distance from people to smelling someone’s armpit on the tube in London! This will lead to the need for further creativity in managing working going forward.
Having everyone in the office 9 to 5 is looking a long way from normal. Companies will respond differently to this challenge and it will depend on the role they do. Solutions will range from continued homeworking to shift patterns, alternating days in the office or reducing time in an office. Like with homeworking we’ll find traditional mindsets challenged and new solutions will be found.
More Attention to Mental Health and Well-being
Much overdue, mental health has been creeping up the agenda over the last few years as awareness and understanding increases. This pandemic has firmly put mental health and well-being into people’s minds and conversations.
We’re all going through something we’ve never experienced before. We’re all experiencing change and we’re all tackling different challenges. Our ability to see how mental health can be affected by change and how it impacts people differently is brought sharply into focus.
With exercise being one of the permitted reasons to leave our homes under social distancing rules, many people have really started to understand the benefits of exercise to both mental and physical health. Many will have experienced the benefits of a good quality break from their workstation to get outside in the fresh air.
Those that fail to recognise the importance of mental health and well-being, choosing to ignore it or simply to not care, are likely to find that their stance places strain on their teams and negatively impacts employee engagement.
Preparing for the Future
Rapid change will produce some knee jerk reactions. We’re all dealing with something new and, as stated at the start of this article, no one has a crystal ball. What we can do is look at the direction the world has been going until now, alongside how people have responded to this crisis so far, and factor in some predictions from the experts about the future of this virus. We can use this information to make plans for our businesses. Those plans may consider a few options and may need tweaking along the way, but having a starting point from which you can tweak is much better than not having a plan.
You may decide now isn’t the time to share that plan with your workforce if there are too many unknowns. But once you have that plan then you are in a stronger position to keep communicating with your people. Keep them engaged. Release information when it becomes appropriate.
Article last updated: 22 April 2020
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