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Whilst yesterday was supposed to be “Freedom Day", having been pushed back by four weeks because of concerns over the Delta variant, the new date for removing all social legal limits is now 19 July.

We discuss how organisations are preparing staff for new ways of working and to what extent they are requiring staff back in the workplace after these restrictions are lifted.

Business optimism

The re-opening of the economy after lockdown has already seen the announcement by major brands in the restaurant and hospitality sector of new jobs. McDonalds intend to fill 20,000 new roles across the UK, whilst Itsu announced 2,000 new UK jobs. This is in keeping with our UK Reward Management Survey which has highlighted how employee turnover is set to increase over the next few months, in line with the increased projected revenues from respondents who expect the re-opening of the economy to accompany a successful financial quarter.

Navigating two tier systems

There are concerns that there might be cultural divisions that emerge from offering hybrid working. With individuals varying their working hours and patterns, some fear that the cohesion of teams may be eroded if they are all free to work virtually. Whilst critics of hybrid working point to potential resentment between groups of employees depending on whether they are in the office or working from home, the flip side to this argument is the need to recognise that people continued to deliver over the course of the pandemic. Big four accountancy firm Deloitte has offered all of its 20,000 UK employees the opportunity to choose when, where and how they work – rewarding them for building this trust during enforced remote working. Offices will be used for team collaboration, training and client meetings.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to balancing work and personal lives. It has also shown how we can trust our people to make the right choice in when, how and where they work.” 

Richard Houston, Deloitte

Senior partner Richard Houston has said that the pandemic has highlighted how “one size does not fit all when it comes to balancing work and personal lives. It has also shown how we can trust our people to make the right choice in when, how and where they work.” The focus will be on “how we can best serve our clients” instead of the firm being prescriptive about quotas of hours needed in the office. This degree of autonomy recognises the maintained levels of productivity employees delivered over the pandemic and also stresses the inclusive future of work that flexibility can offer when it comes to reaching under-represented talent pools who find it harder to find work-life balance in a 9 to 5 structure.

Emerging class divide

Whilst inclusivity can be achieved in roles that are easier to deliver remotely, such as in the professional services sector, a poll by the TUC has also raised concerns about an “emerging class divide” that working from home presents. The union argues that those in working class jobs are less likely to be able to access home working – employees are more likely to have flexible working requests refused. Employers may be able to support flexible hours, not just location, to build in flexibility around other commitments for those in working-class, lower paid jobs. They reveal that 82 per cent of workers across all occupations want to take up some form of flexible working in the future.

Meanwhile, the proposed legal right to work from home dominating the headlines last week was clarified by the government. A proposed consultation on making flexible working the default option in employment contracts is only being discussed, but the TUC’s survey revealed that two-thirds believe that working people should get flexible working as a right from the outset of their employment. According to the TUC, now is the time to make Britain a world-class leader in flexible working rights.

Greater employee choice

During the pandemic, we talked about how it was an employer’s market. 24 per cent of respondents in our autumn UK Reward Management Survey were operating pay freezes and only 42 per cent were having to pay a premium to attract talent, down from 63 per cent in autumn 2019. However, the picture is complicated by skills shortages in certain sectors and the fact that greater optimism as the UK emerges from its third lockdown may give employees more confidence to move roles – especially if they are not listened to about their preferred working arrangements going forward. Whilst one in three respondents to our autumn Reward Survey expected recruitment and retention challenges, this has grown to two thirds expecting recruitment challenges and over half expecting retention challenges in our spring 2020 edition.

This might be the litmus test for companies in terms of how well they have treated individuals during this period. With the very public allegations of a ‘toxic’ work culture at BrewDog that were exacerbated by the pandemic according to their co-founder, organisations’ responses to the stress and uncertainty wrought by Covid-19 will factor in to the decisions of employees as the labour market recovers. Those who have treated employees as individuals over this period, by providing financial assistance where possible, prioritised employee wellbeing and clearly communicated with those on furlough, may be rewarded with loyalty from employees to help them kick-start their post-pandemic strategy.

Future generations

Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2010) are entering the workplace at a time of unique uncertainty as established ways of working are being revolutionised. Whilst some demographics, such as parents with childcare responsibilities, will want to take advantage of the flexibility provided by hybrid working, others will want to socialise and network through work. Providing the option of a strong employee experience within an office is an important part of attracting younger generations. This demonstrates how the design of an office may influence and attract different types of candidates.

United behind purpose

What can bridge the physical distance is a strong strategy that offers employees, wherever they are based, the development of key skills, ensures they know they are part of a diverse and inclusive workplace and recognises its social responsibility.

Whilst Gen Z are digital natives used to virtual connections, they are arguably more socially and environmentally aware; 51 per cent of this group worry about mental health and wellbeing according to Personnel Today. The physical presence in an office and the chance to spontaneously connect with colleagues may be an important factor in bolstering the wellbeing of some employees. Whatever the level of returning to the office, ensuring that employee experience caters for remote and office-based staff is crucial. What can bridge the physical distance is a strong strategy that offers employees, wherever they are based, the development of key skills, ensures they know they are part of a diverse and inclusive workplace and recognises its social responsibility. These core priorities will be key in gaining the competitive edge to attract a wide-ranging talent pool.

Get in touch

Defining the level of flexibility that will suit your organisation and the candidates you want to apply may require greater consultation with employees. Employee listening is a quick and efficient way of gathering views about what suits each team and individual. Call us today to talk through the options you’re considering.

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