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As organisations emerge from the pandemic, we explore whether there is the opportunity to redesign the workplace and embed a supportive, thriving environment which champions diversity, inclusion and sustainability. Tackling environmental, social and governance issues is a key concern at board level and features heavily in business planning for the future.

Here we outline the three key opportunities that the pandemic has created for businesses as they re-define their approach post-pandemic, reflecting the government’s own pledge to ‘build back better’ in signalling how it intends to move forward.

The opportunity to be a responsible organisation

Companies are increasingly examining their green credentials. The spotlight placed on electric vehicles recently in light of the government’s pledge to create a greener and cleaner landscape has forced companies to examine their own track record. From 2030, sales of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK and from 2035, that ban will extend to hybrid vehicles.

These targets are hugely ambitious and will require innovation within the automotive industry. DPD has reported that they have made the business decision to move its fleet to electric vans. Similarly, hybrid working and working from home eases the pollution caused by millions of employees commuting, putting the focus on commuters to collaborate or necessary business journeys to be more eco-friendly. The UK’s biggest wealth manager has scrapped plans to move into a new City of London head office because of the rise in hybrid working, embracing flexible working and avoiding the £10 million plan.

There is also the possibility of great innovation when it comes to embracing green technology. Boris Johnson announced £9.7 billion of new investment to “power our economic recovery” at the Global Investment Summit. 18 deals that support growth in sectors such as wind and hydrogen energy, sustainable homes, carbon capture and storage are set to create 30,000 new jobs in the UK.

Organisations are increasingly asking how they can support their client’s environmental, social and governance agendas. However, the government itself seems to be torn over how to achieve net zero by 2050. Tackling the climate emergency needs to be carefully balanced against public finances. The UN conference COP26 in Glasgow next month will be the opportunity for climate change to be tackled on the world stage, with public and private sectors needing to come together to meet the right incentives and regulations to work towards net zero. For now, companies must set their own ESG policies and define how they can maximise their own impact in this area.

The opportunity to embed inclusion and embrace diversity

There has been a disproportionate impact on traditionally under-represented groups in the workplace. With reports that 35 per cent of working mothers have lost work or hours since the pandemic started because of a lack of childcare support and criticism of the government being unable to explain the fact that unemployment for young black people increased by more than half to 41.6 per cent over 2020 in contrast to a growth of just two per cent among young white people in the same period. This stark inequality has been widely attributed to the few programmes directly aimed at people from minority ethnic communities.

This begs the question, how will workplaces tackle this? The business case for greater diversity and inclusion is well established, as better financial performance is well documented as a key benefit of more diverse organisations. McKinsey’s report 'Diversity wins: How inclusion matters' directly highlights the impact of a more diverse leadership team on the bottom line, in addition to a BCG report ‘How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation’ which notes that earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margins for organisations that had greater diversity were nine percentage points higher than companies with below-average diversity in their management teams.

‘I&D is a powerful enabler of business performance. Companies whose leaders welcome diverse talents and include multiple perspectives are likely to emerge from the crisis stronger.’

McKinsey & Co, ‘Diversity wins’

With the skills shortage widely talked about, diversity and inclusion may not only determine long-term business success, but may also help to tackle recruitment and retention challenges faced by organisations as the labour market becomes more buoyant. Utilising under-represented demographics and making sure that the workforce is more reflective of the customer base can fuel business performance. A greater spectrum of voices and experiences can create a competitive edge, helping businesses be bolder in their decision-making which is crucial in a crisis. Early education and assembling representative teams to overcome unconscious bias, break down hurdles and gender stereotypes are all deemed crucial in truly building a more inclusive workplace, regardless of socio-economic background, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. Successful equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) networks such as the one built by Kettering General Hospital NHS which truly champions a sense of belonging and openness are focused on building a place where people want to work.

The opportunity to reimagine the employee experience

With reports that employee burnout has doubled since lockdown ended, employee wellbeing must be at the heart of a company’s strategy as it adapts and potentially embraces hybrid working. Glassdoor revealed that out of 2,000 full-time UK employees, 52 per cent reported that work regularly ate into their personal life and 35 per cent felt that they could not achieve a healthy work-life balance in their current role.

“It is really important that organisations have a strong culture of wellbeing which should start with senior leaders acting as role models.”

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser, CIPD

Line managers are pivotal in creating the culture of the workplace. In order for businesses to be fully meeting the needs of their workforce, management training is a key component to ensure that people managers require the skills to have important conversations with staff. Setting clear objectives to ensure people know what is expected of them at work and ensuring they strike a good work-life balance is key. Being clear about expectations can empower people to juggle work with their personal choices. In turn, this can actually bolster EDI initiatives, reducing the reported pressure faced by one in three women in the corporate workforce according to a ‘Women in the Workplace’ Study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey.

Interestingly, the Glassdoor research highlighted how 66 per cent of workers want to change their current work-life balance but were keen for their employers to suggest new solutions. Whilst for some, a four-day week has been touted as the way to get the balance right as we emerge from the pandemic and others are designating the use of the office as a collaborative space, organisations have the opportunity to re-write the rules of the workplace. Whilst it has been predominantly professional services firms, such as tech and finance, where employees could work from home, flexible working requests are set to be available across all industries from day one. What is clear is that no ‘one size fits all’ solution exists, actively listening to employees and their concerns can help organisations define what works best for them and each team.

Get in touch

Whilst many continue to work from home during this period of transition even after restrictions have been lifted, it remains to be tested as to whether the events of 2020 have truly acted as a catalyst for meaningful change in the workplace. In answer to the question, ‘will the post-pandemic world of work be greener and fairer?’, this depends on the level to which organisations embrace the opportunities available in re-engineering their approach to employees and how they do business.

The business case for ensuring that organisations prioritise responsible, inclusive and employee-centric practices as we emerge from the pandemic has been established – laying the foundations of long-term business resilience into the future. Call us today to discuss how you can design and implement equitable reward strategies. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss how you can future-proof your business and commit to bringing about lasting change in your workplace.

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