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As organisations monitor how best to bring people back into the workplace safely, new ways of working are already emerging. Many organisations have been relying on scaled back operations and adjusting to remote working. 

We outline how the new normal of working from home will have a profound impact on how work is undertaken in the future.

1. The immediate impact on business operations

Responses to our Spring 2020 UK Reward Management Survey were collected over the course of March to May. Respondents are consistently cautious around future business operations. Looking at business’ outlooks on revenue, the number of businesses expecting a decrease actually went down between April and May (40 per cent to 25 per cent). This may suggest some confidence in a swift and successful end to the lockdown and a return to operations, but around one third consistently say it is too early to tell. This acknowledges ongoing uncertainty around when certain businesses can reopen and talks of the immediate effects of easing lockdown.

Paydata UK Reward Management Survey Spring 2020

2. Workforce planning

From a strategic point of view, organisations are advised to have four scenarios when contingency planning to be able to adapt to changing circumstances as they unfold. Companies are taking the time to focus on organisational restructuring and placing more reliance on grading; this framework enables them to rationalise and make objective decisions when redundancies might not be avoidable in the long-term.

3. Risk assessing returns to work

Many employers are using return to work surveys to assess whether employees are ‘Ready, Willing and Able’ and fully support them at whatever stage they are at. This might be in the form of a phased return or tailored training. Employers are in unchartered territory in terms of bringing people back from furlough and getting more people back into the workplace if they have had to reduce numbers in the physical workplace, for instance in Facilities Management where reduced security shifts have been required.

4. What the new normal means for different sectors

Organisations who have grown accustomed to scaled back operations and remote working may ultimately require less office space. Less office space and commuters will have a knock-on effect for sectors such as Facilities Management, Mechanical Engineering and Transport. These sectors have voiced concerns about the impact of fewer management contracts if physical office space is scaled back and if there are fewer commuters, this means season ticket holders will reduce.

Hot desking may necessarily be banned unless a rota can be set up with deep cleans undertaken between each working shift. Working from home does have the potential to polarise teams based on different personalities preferring different ways of working. Only time will tell if organisations can sustain a reduced workplace presence or whether some cultures will want to get back into an office space altogether.

5. Tried and tested working from home experiment

When working from home was made obligatory at the end of March, many said it would be a test of whether organisations could realistically offer more opportunity for flexible working. The senior management team at some organisations actively resisted remote working before the pandemic, according to feedback in our HR Groups. Many said that call centres were unachievable remotely. In spite of tchallenges that had to be solved overnight to redeploy call workers into their own homes, the model has been effective.

Advocates of this way of working point to the fact that this period has proved it can be done and employees can still be judged on their results. We would add to this that the working from home experiment was done during the hardest conditions possible, where family lives have been necessarily intertwined with the closing of schools and nurseries. If productivity has been maintained in the most challenging circumstances, this particularly strengthens the business case for continued remote working. As a result, organisations may maintain flexible working arrangements going forward and see the necessity in being able to respond immediately to external threats and facilitate effective remote working for the benefit of customers.

6. Better work-life balance

A lot has been written about the profound impact on mental health and wellbeing that this period has had on employees. Whilst there are concerns that isolation itself has a negative effect in terms of the lack of socialising in general that has been permitted, some have embraced the opportunity to avoid long commutes and employers anticipate an increase in working from home requests.

Again this will vary by personality, as some have reported that they are working longer hours and logging in earlier to replace the commute – struggling to achieve successfully separating work and switching off. Many employers have been proactively supporting employees in achieving work life balance by ensuring they tailor the message to the individual and think about the challenges each face. For example, some have offered access to mental health apps as a key benefit, others offering competitions to help keep their employees’ children busy and others have set up staff forums to put colleagues in touch remotely.

7. Talent diversification

The world of flexible working opens up access to a whole range of new candidates. Those who require flexible working around childcare arrangements, those not so adept on the social side but excellent on attention and delivery and those geographically disparate that can connect remotely, are all new candidate pools to many organisations who previously required employees to be present in the office for designated hours.

8. The spotlight on HR

HR has been, and will remain, integral in adapting to the current situation. Many organisations are taking the time to thank HR teams for adapting to an increased workload. HR professionals have had to implement the furlough scheme, ensure effective communication in the face of constantly changing circumstances and coordinate the whole workforce remotely. This underlines the mission critical nature of the profession and the collaboration and rapport that it needs throughout the organisation to get them through times of crisis.

9. Data-driven insights

As some organisations do not anticipate getting back to the same levels of revenue they experienced pre-lockdown for two years, the harsh financial reality of redundancies and pay freezes may shape the immediate future of the workplace and drive organisations into survival mode. The focus on finances for many companies will mean that decisions will often be made in terms of what is necessary. Benchmarking data can help with making evidence-based decisions that keeps pay competitive for crucial roles within your organisation. Keeping on top of insights based on reliable data will be crucial to use this in real time when making decisions.

10. More efficient use of time and technology

Some people have said that it is much easier to reach people with the current setup. Many in our HR Groups have questioned whether you need to spend three hours travelling to a meeting when you can use Zoom. Therefore the frequency of face-to-face meetings may be permanently affected. Recruitment may focus on the IT and data side in the immediate future as everyone ensures they have a strong team to drive technology and remain agile in case something like this happens again.

Get in touch

If you are looking to review your organisational structure and ensure you have the right data in place to make evidence-based, informed decisions, talk to us today.

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