What is the future of work post COVID-19? (The New Normal)
In the 3rd of our “Sixty Second Read” series, our Flexible Working expert Neville Henderson looks at the “New Normal” post COVID 19…
Many of us, who have the option of doing so, have been forced into working from home offices (or indeed kitchens) for the last few months due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Working and home life has significantly changed for all, for some this has led to positive aspects more than simply mastering Skype, Zoom or Teams, such as having more time flexibility and capacity with no commuting (also leading to an improvement in air quality from reduced pollution). Others have said that there are better family relationships as they have had to find activities and entertain each other together. Some people have had the chance to embrace home activities such as exercising, gardening and, once the panic buying relented, baking and cooking. For some this forcing of “togetherness” has had more negative aspects as law firms are now bracing themselves for a surge in divorces.
Furthermore, there has clearly been a rise in social injustice with the virus impacting more on BAME communities and the gender pay gap being seen to widen. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education reported that mothers were more likely to have permanently lost their jobs, quit or been furloughed. With industries like hospitality and retail expected to take longer to recover post-Covid whilst employing significant numbers of female workers there is much work to do to prevent the pandemic having a devastating effect on gender equality – especially poignant at the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.
Clearly, however the lockdown has affected you, the world will be a changed place in the future. The new overused term being the “new normal”. What this will be is currently unknown and we may well go through many stages and bumps on the road until we get there. As we begin this journey many options are being put forward as a panacea for the direction to take. Some may be helpful as an aid for social distancing whilst the virus remains in our environment, other widely promoted shift options may help promote certain industries productivity and efficiency for the future.
Examining a few of these options in more detail:
3-day split week
The Royal Society of Arts (RSA), with its Chief Executive Matthew Taylor who previously produced the Good Work – Review of Modern Working Practices, have proposed splitting the working week in two. Dividing employees into two groups, each of which would work a consecutive three-day shift allowing workspaces to be deep-cleaned every 3 days and with reduced staff attending physical distancing would be easier. Although this provides lower attendance than normal it may help more people back into work, reduce workplace congestion and provide employee flexibility for caring challenges they currently face.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently floated the idea of a four-day week as one way to boost domestic tourism. This has previously been seen in New Zealand when a company called Perpetual started an eight-week trial for 240 staff and sought to test productivity, motivation and output by changing the work model to give every staff member a paid day off each week, staff worked 30 hours but were paid for 37.5. They were asked to deliver the same amount of output as in a standard week.
Christine Brotherton, Perpetual’s Head of People and Capability said of the trial, “If employees are engaged with their job and employer, they are more productive. The trial was a valuable and timely way to test our theory that efficiencies will come with more staff focus and motivation.”
Working fewer hours may therefore help increase productivity but in this case may also provide more leisure time and thus time for spending earnings on the tourism, hospitality and retail industries.
With many employees currently working from home, post Covid, companies may benefit from allowing employees to decide to continue to do so. Indeed it may be difficult for employers to refuse applications from their staff who wish to continue working from home under their right to request flexible working – unless the business can provide good reasons relating to cost, performance, quality, organisational effects, recruitment and level of work available.
Recently the IWG Global Workplace Survey found 85% of over 15,000 global businesses from 80 nations believe greater flexibility of location leads to productivity increase.
Twitter have announced that employees can now work from home forever. They have not imposed it but will allow staff to go back to their offices only if they choose to do so when they reopen.
What is the future of work for you?
These options are most definitely not a panacea, they may or may not work for parts of your business or require some form of hybrid.
It is important to understand the demands on the business and the requirement for operational time. In some situations, a 4-day week may not fit and could simply lead to an uplift in staff and thus costs, although this may help others in the economy. A study of European firms who conducted 4 day working trials before the pandemic reported similar positive productivity results, but there were downsides. Three-quarters of those businesses surveyed said there were significant hurdles to implementing it, such as bureaucracy, contract issues and staffing challenges. Perhaps these may be of less importance in this new world.
The RSA’s option for 3-day week split may provide a simple solution but there are innumerable other shift pattern options that may prove as good or better for your particular business.
Homeworking may be possible but large numbers that have been surveyed say that they prefer working in the office or workplace over working from home but almost all say that they would like to have an opportunity to work from home some of the time.
It will no doubt be interesting to see how things change if the extent of social distancing, perspex barriers etc. causes a reduction in interactions at work – this may lead to feelings of isolation whilst actually present in offices.
Whatever your business, Crown Workforce Management Consultants have been helping design and implement many different types of flexible working schemes, using multiple methodologies and outcomes such as annualised hours for the past few decades. We help businesses to:
- analyse, understand and predict their demand profiles
- design and develop optimum resource profiles and shift patterns, enabling not only improved productivity but also work-life balance, motivation and reward
- implement solutions in partnership with your employees
- manage your future flexible working solutions using Crown WFM Solutions – monitoring hours usage, absence and planning day to day flexibility requirements, giving you sight of remote attendance and hours worked
Any new way of working with additional flexibilities of time and location will require good management and we are fully equipped to help you oversee this complexity. Let us help you to develop and manage good flexible productive work arrangements ready for whatever the “new normal” brings.