4 ways Coronavirus could change the workforce for good

 

With a light finally shining at the end of the tunnel – now is the perfect time to reflect on how coronavirus might change the way we work. Here, we discuss four work-culture changes that are already showing signs of emerging post-pandemic.

Increased working from home

A lack of tech was an easy ‘out’ for companies looking to prevent employees working from home prior to the current health pandemic. Now? Every company has been forced to set up their employees with work-from-home equipment, meaning employers are going to have to provide justification should they wish to encourage staff to come back in to the office as opposed to stay WFH.
The working world is already showing signs of modernising. Social media giant Twitter, which employs over 4000 people globally, recently announced that its employees can work from home forever (if that’s what they want to do) after finding staff are actually more productive at home than they are in the office.

But its not necessarily as simple as telling your staff they can work from home permanently. A recent Linked In poll by Alexander Daniels showed almost half of people would choose to work from home for two to three days a week, as opposed to every day. And just over a third opted for the flexibility of being able to work from home when required.

Whilst very few people (3%) said they wanted to work in the office fulltime, things like team bonding and loneliness make answers to the ‘Do you want to work from home’ question far from black and white.

Flexible working hours

The opportunity to fit work around tasks like taking the kids to school and going to the doctors is the dream for those battling against the constraints of a 9-5 office job, and flexible working is just that – it’s a huge benefit for many jobseekers looking to better fuse their work/home life.

Alexander Daniels recruiter Sarah says ‘the uplift in job-seekers requesting flexible working hours is incredible – and our clients seem to be coming to terms with that shift in working-culture. A lot of them have learnt that working from home and even working less than 35-40 hours a week doesn’t necessarily equate to less productivity’.

In a world where working parents are still having to struggle against a fulltime job that requires them to be away from home for five out of seven days a week, flexible working could be a real lifesaver.

Better relationships with colleagues from further afield

There’s no doubt isolation has curtailed the daily office catch ups of everyday life, but has it boosted the connections we make with colleagues based close by and further afield? Most companies have relied heavily on the likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom for keeping in touch with colleagues – at Alexander Daniels we had a daily Zoom catch-up call whilst WFH home during lockdown – but is that something that’s set to stay?

When it comes to travel, using video conferencing tools as opposed to jetting off to see colleagues in person could save companies a lot of money. Not only that, around 2.4% of the world’s CO2 emissions come from aviation, meaning video conferencing is better for the environment in the long run.

Business travel does not fit well with family life, either; it’s often a given that comes with climbing your way up the career ladder. But should we be addressing that in favour of improved work/life balance – especially considering we now have a viable, technological alternative?

Whilst some business travel is necessary, there is a robust argument for it to reduce. One study, by the US company Lifesize, reported more than half (55%) of companies that use video conferencing said they are more collaborative, and 50% said they are more innovative. So, many companies are actively benefiting by using video conferencing as opposed to meeting colleagues in person.

Improved mental and physical health

The ability to utilise breaks (with a quick walk or online fitness class for example) coupled with no time wasted on a twice-daily commute, means a lot of us will emerge from this pandemic healthier than ever. But there’s no guarantee that you wouldn’t be wearing a face shield with glasses even after the pandemic subsides.

Coronavirus has encouraged us to think carefully about the environment we find ourselves in at work – is a back-pain inducing office chair and a stuffy building really something we want to return to? But, more importantly, it’s encouraged us to take stock and consider the pros and cons of lockdown in terms of wellbeing. Is WFH something I’d like to do permanently? Do I need more time off? Do I feel lonely without my colleagues?

Take the amount of time we spend at our desk, for example. WFH provides people with the option of finishing early if they have less work to do than normal. And, if that time is used productively, it means the employee will return to work feeling refreshed the next day, not deflated after spending their last contracted hours of the day staring at a screen. But again, it’s not that simple. Flexibility requires trust. Employers must trust their employees and vice versa.

Personality type is a huge factor, too. Some people struggle to motivate themselves without being in an office whilst others, take neurodivergent individuals, can benefit mentally from WFH.

What’s required is a discussion between employers and their staff. If some people need an office to act as that barrier between work and home – does that office need modernising? Would standing desks and zones for relaxation dramatically improve the wellbeing of company staff? If someone works better at home, is it necessary to deny them of that? Or would a halfway point – say two days in the office and three days at home – mean they could maintain relationships but also keep that space of concentration at home?

Coronavirus has certainly highlighted gaps in work infrastructure, but it’s up to businesses to address these gaps so that employee wellbeing improves in the future. And now is the perfect time to get those conversations started.

What should you consider as an employer?

 

• MANAGEMENT:

Working from home does not equate to less time sent managing employees. Regular meetings to monitor staff progress and retain team motivation are crucial when it comes to keeping up productivity. There is nothing to say management can’t be just as effective from home, but that relies on line-managers staying connected and keeping up to date with how their employees are progressing.

• WORKING HOURS:

Coronavirus has no doubt impacted the workload of some workforces whilst WFH. That drop in output has potentially allowed for time wasted on the distractions that WFH might bring. Having a clear policy set out for your staff that outlines how many hours they should be working is important. But so is flexibility. If your staff are working less hours, yet their work is still being completed – is that a problem? If an employee can fit their tasks into a 5-hour window across the day, that is potentially a good thing that allows them to spend more time with their family. It also positions your company as one that has the wellbeing of their employees at heart. But again, a policy needs to be set out to allow for that. And staff who choose to work in the office need to be given the same benefits.

• STAFF RETENTION:

The type of business you run should influence your decision-making. If your staff are constantly bouncing ideas back-and-forth and rely on each other for support, is WFH an option you should provide? Will enabling a lot of your staff to WFH isolate the people that prefer an office environment? Keeping your staff happy is paramount when it comes to staff-retention.

 

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