We are on our path out of lockdown, schools are back and the vaccine rollout is surpassing expectations...but what is next for businesses? Having worked with different organisations over the course of the last year I believe that the changes we have seen are so significant that many are here to stay.
Return to the office
One of the most challenging questions for businesses at the moment is when will it be safe to return to the office?. The problem is that every business is different and even though life is starting to slowly return to normal it is expected that there will still be risks for some time. So, there is no single answer that will suit every business. You will need to review your own workplace in line with government advice and consider:
- Can staff keep a safe distance from each other?
- How will interactions such as meetings and communal areas be kept safe?
- What can you do as a business to ensure the office is a safe environment?
It may be that a phased return at the end of lockdown will help make this more manageable and by adopting a flexible approach you can alleviate potential employee concerns.
Many big businesses have already recognised that expectations have changed. Whilst younger workers with less space at home can’t wait for their working lives to return to the office, for people with young families extra time at home has given them a greater work-life balance. Businesses such as Google have been quick to adapt and announced the trial of a new flexible working plan. Their new policy will ask for employees to work at least three days in the office to allow time to collaborate and then they have the choice to be based from home on the other two days. This model is expected to lead to greater productivity as employees gain more flexibility and choice. Nationwide have also recently announced that office employees will now be able to ‘work anywhere’. Whatever the size of your business we can’t deny that there is a significant shift in employee expectation that your business will need to consider.
What else will flexible working bring?
There are always unexpected consequences of change and businesses have started to consider the impact of virtual working on the recruitment process. Having quickly adjusted to a virtual day to day working model it is now clear that interviews do not need to be restricted to traditional business hours or locations. A flexible approach to ‘out of hours’ interviews could be a more practical solution to attract a wider range of candidates and create a more candidate-centric approach. This is just one of the expected ripple effects of a shift in working patterns, I expect to see many more.
A new aspect to consider in the workplace is vaccination. There will be some people who prefer not to have the vaccine and there is no mandatory requirement to have one, however vulnerable workers have been advised that they won’t need to shield from 1st April and may have concerns. So, not only are there practical safety considerations, in certain settings such as care homes there will also be more individual and personal concerns, depending on an employees personal circumstances. Carefully thinking through your business policies, listening, adapting and communicating effectively will all be key to navigating this unprecedented situation.
There is increasing concern around health and wellbeing and the longer-term impacts of Covid. We now know that some covid sufferers experience prolonged symptoms, known as Long Covid. This is a new and rising condition and there is little information detailing how long these symptoms will last, all we do know is that they have a considerable impact on wellbeing. Mental health has also declined over the last year as the strain placed on people managing the impact of multiple lockdowns takes its toll. Physical wellbeing has also suffered for many people following the closure of leisure centres and sports clubs. So, our employee's wellbeing has never been more important and employers should consider how employees could be provided with extra support and practical help.
The series of lockdowns we have experienced has left many employers with an annual leave conundrum where employees working from home have stored up leave, putting employers in a difficult position. There are strategies you can use to help with this problem:
Carry Over. New regulations introduced last March allow employees to carry over up to 4 weeks of holiday days for the two leave years, specifically where taking leave has not been "reasonably practicable" during the pandemic. Be aware that this is a legal term that can be open to interpretation.
Encourage Employees to Take Leave. You can ask your employees to take a proportion of leave by a certain date, providing you give them appropriate notice. Do remind your teams how important it is to take a break away from work for their own wellbeing.
These are not insignificant changes, but living through such uncertain times will impact the way we live and work. If businesses accept this inevitability and adapt quickly, then they won’t get left behind.