Published on 28th May 2020
Has the way we work changed forever? What our clients are saying
It has been a challenging few weeks for us all. Having worked through the GFC I thought I could deal with most market disruptions and downturns and have the resilience to cope with whatever demanding periods of working life that could be thrown at me. Well I can truthfully say, my resilience, tenacity and positivity have been tested to the limit
The COVID 19 pandemic is testing businesses and business leaders in an unprecedented way. The Prime Minister’s announcement on 10th May stated anyone who cannot work from home should be actively encouraged to go back to work, albeit in a safe manner.
This statement caused some confusion for employers and employees. What does ‘cannot work from home’ mean? If you are in shared accommodation, all trying to work on a poor internet connection, could you be classed as this? Or a parent trying to juggle zoom meetings, childcare, home schooling and poor internet connection (yes, I am having a few problems with my internet!)?
Keeping cash flowing and staff safe
Many firms have had to fundamentally change their working practices and returning to work isn’t going to be as simple as ‘switching on’. As we enter into month 3 of lockdown with a slight easing of some restrictions, many firms are now operating in their new business-as-usual way. Remote working practices are up and running and a new normal is starting to emerge. For the short to medium term, firms will need to adapt their new normal to successfully move forward into 2021 and beyond.
Businesses are monitoring cash flow, using government support where possible and focusing on cost reductions. Financial planning and modelling is a constant concern of finance teams throughout the globe. HR professionals are working harder and longer hours than they have ever worked to support and guide boards on their business decisions and strategy.
The next stage is for senior management teams to review workforce planning, looking at how getting people back in the office can be become a reality.
The question is, can firms make their premises safe? And how can we make staff feel confident to commute again?
Many of our clients have said that the practicality of ‘safety planning’ an office is doable. They will provide some form of PPE in the form of masks, gloves and hand sanitiser. They’ll trial the model of A/B/C/D, which involves rotating and who’s in the office on different days. And they’ll install perspex screens around desks, floor markings denotating 2m distance, and a one directional flow of movement around the office.
The bigger problem is how to get people to travel safely. Some London firms are already saying that they will not ask employees to return to the office until 2021, as the current transport capacity of 15% makes it almost impossible.
Could this be a boost for the regions?
Firms that have offices outside of London are utilising their regional offices, looking at facilitating staff to drive to work, which is inevitably far safer and easier.
Other firms are in the return to work planning phase already and have risk assessments taking place. These companies are conducting surveys asking how people feel about returning to work. Some staff may feel more vulnerable than others – and their underlying health might make coming back to an office an unnecessary risk.
Interestingly, some companies have told us that they are trialling their return to work policies in their offices outside of London first. In the past few weeks, we have had a number of clients approach us asking for business-critical hires to be focused in the regional hubs for the short term. We have also had an increase in the number of people applying for these roles, particularly those in the home counties. Instead of a train commute to London, some candidates want to drive to work to avoid the capital.
Could this be the start of a decrease in workforces based in London, and an upsurge in investment in the regions?
While some workers are keen to return to the office, they will want continued flexibility to work from home for at least part of the working week. The majority of people in office-based roles have proven they can successfully work from home. Some firms have cited that productivity has actually risen during this time. So, the way we work may have changed forever.
The main message is that people won’t be forced to do something they feel uncomfortable with – we can expect a slow, phased return to work on a minimal scale until Q1 2021.
What will be interesting is what comes after this. Will firms continue to allow people to have increased flexibility? Will there be a rise in work based in locations outside of London? And will firms start to decrease the amount of office space they have in London? A desk per employee may become a thing of the past.