The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a fundamental shift in the way workplaces organise their operations, not least the necessary change from office working to home working during lockdown.
A year on, we have witnessed a huge shift in collective attitudes to working from home. The pandemic has proved to businesses that remote working can be done successfully; it offers several benefits to both organisations and its workforce, and post-pandemic, it will certainly open up numerous opportunities for smarter work solutions for the future.
What Do We Want?
Researchers from Cardiff University stated in a recent report: “Nine out of ten (88%) employees who worked at home in June 2020 reported that they would like to continue working at home in some capacity. The same question asked in September 2020 showed a rise to 93%.”
Away from academia, professional associations in the UK – representing thousands in management and leadership roles across several industry sectors – have made statements and conducted their own research into the attitudes and impacts of remote working during Covid-19.
For example, take a look at the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) in their statement on flexible working: ““With its many benefits, we believe flexible working should be the norm – not the exception – for UK workers, and central to the creation of inclusive and productive workplaces…More action is needed to increase the uptake of flexible working arrangements to create more inclusive, diverse and productive workplaces that suit both the needs of organisations and individuals.”
What Have Businesses Planned for Post-Covid Working?
In recent months, several organisations have revealed plans to offer a hybrid working model – part time in the office and the remainder remotely – or to remove the obligation to come to the office altogether. These organisations include:
- Major banks, such as Lloyds and HSBC
- Tech companies like Twitter, Google and Spotify
- Three of the “Big four” UK Accounting firms: KPMG, EY and PwC
- Other major companies such as BP and Unilever have announced plans for hybrid working
So what are the key drivers for businesses to embrace these models? Aside from many employees being able to do their jobs from anywhere, thanks to cloud computing and video conferencing, this offers organisations the opportunity to reduce costs on office space. Indeed, Lloyds stated that they aim to reduce office footprint by 20% by as soon as 2023.
Other drivers have placed focus on the wishes of staff members for more flexibility, especially amongst the younger workforce. Common outcomes include time and money saved on commuting and fewer distractions at home (if child-free, of course), as well as reduced pressure on working parents regarding finding childcare on particular days where there are no in-office meetings.
It may be prudent to realise that the offer of flexible working could be seen by employees as a crucial benefit to working in an organisation, as there are no technical barriers for many to do so. Thus, organisations are viewing hybrid working as a way to attract and retain the best talent.
Hybrid Working = Better Performance?
Academic research has shown that flexible working has long been perceived as a discernible employee benefit. Sir Cary Cooper, Professor at the University of Manchester’s Alliance Business School, was quoted in this Independent article: “The evidence pre-Covid was that people wanted to work more flexibly, and work partly at home, partly from a central office,”… He said: “The findings showed it enhanced job satisfaction, there was higher productivity, and less sickness and absence. But what most people didn’t want is what we’ve been doing in the pandemic: remote work 100 per cent at the time.”
The overall picture from the employees’ viewpoint is that a hybrid working model, with some part time working in the office, is the preferred way going forward.
Companies that are able to offer hybrid working will open up the talent pool, not just geographically (if recruits are fine to commute for a small portion of the week), but it also offers opportunities to underrepresented groups. A Nasdaq article reported: “a shift to developing remote, globally available workforces will naturally lead to corporations becoming more inclusive. It is well documented that more diverse workplaces foster better business performance, and the opportunities to share ideas, cultures and promote acceptance, tolerance, and equality have never been greater. Again, zooming out, hiring people from a broader talent pool could also help to reduce the wealth divide across gender, race, and socio-economic boundaries.”
Future-Proofing Your Business
The benefits are obvious for businesses; there are considerable cost savings in terms of real estate and overheads, and it opens up and levels the playing field for a more diverse workforce who are not bound by location or the traditional “9-to-5” office routine to let their talents shine.
Employees, too, will reap the benefits; there is certainly a cost saving for them, with less commuting and the peripheral spending of office work (such as eating out, for example), and staff are largely just as, if not more productive at home. Plus, as research shows: flexible working, especially amongst the younger workforce, is fast becoming a key employment benefit that people expect in a new role.
For organisations to future-proof their operations, keep up with the competition and fast-changing trends for the workplace, and to ensure high staff retention, they simply must offer a more flexible office model as part of their business structure.
It is important to remember; similar to any culture shift within an organisation, a new way of working will take time to perfect. But the hard work will be worth it: for your employees, and for the fortunes of your business.