We need a more imaginative approach to the workplace.
It’s time to reimagine, reshape and reinforce the workplace; rather than striving to return to “normal” or to create a sense of “normality” with a “new normal”.
Workplaces of the future are progressive, agile and dynamic – and we, as HR professionals, are integral to the success of this new approach.
Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announced plans for easing lockdown measures on Sunday 10 May, the future of work has once again appeared in the spotlight.
Employers are faced with a juggling act of reintroducing operations and weaning off furlough schemes, while also adhering to stringent health and safety measures. And that’s not all. Employers are also faced with demands for change by their people; that is, greater availability of remote and flexible working, more trust and autonomy in roles, a greater sense of purpose and recognition, and prioritising of employee mental health and wellbeing initiatives, to name a few.
So, let’s explore this new working world.
The future of work is working from home
The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced that humans are a resilient and adaptable bunch. Businesses – particularly those in the professional services sector – have adapted to moving their operations remotely through home working. And many have done so brilliantly, realising that – yup, you’ve guessed it – home working works!
With the Government’s plans to ease lockdown, understandably many people are concerned about whether it is safe to return to the workplace. Meanwhile, for some with caring responsibilities or those who rely on public transport, returning to work at this time is an impossibility.
As such, it has been proposed that UK employees should be given a legal right to work from home. Officials at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy have put forth the issue of enshrining a right to work from home in law as part of the Government’s return to work package.
This would ensure employees are not forced to go into the office while also reducing the costs for businesses in adapting their workplaces to adhere to social distancing measures – such as, introducing temperature scanners, remodelling workstations and installing glass shields, and supplying PPE and hand sanitiser.
Plus, with quarantine proving that many people can work from home, it will be near impossible to return to “normal” office-based working practices after lockdown.
The future of work is flexible working
If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll know that I have been championing the demise of the rigid Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 working week for years now, and the need for ongoing social distancing means that traditional working patterns are once again up for debate.
The Adam Smith Institute has recommended a 4 days on, 10 days off working pattern as a means to avoid a potential second spike of coronavirus cases. This comprises dividing the workforce in half and alternating working four days in the office and ten days from home, in order to facilitate social distancing. Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has outlined staggering of working start and end times to ease congestion for commuters.
Flexible working gives employees greater autonomy over their working lives while also shifting the focus of businesses away from presenteeism and working hours, and onto valuing output and quality of work. Plus, taking a more flexible approach to work has tangible benefits for both the business and the employee. Employees have a greater work-life balance, the morale-boosting effects of which are seen in increased engagement and productivity.
Indeed, employee engagement has also been reported as higher now than before the coronavirus lockdown. A survey by XpertHR revealed one-third of UK businesses believe employee engagement has increased. Further, 21% HR professionals surveyed said they’d describe the level of employee engagement in their organisation as “excellent” and 58% as “good”.
Reasons for the increase in employee engagement included initiatives such as providing regular business updates, wellbeing and mental health guidance, practical tips on homeworking and virtual social events, as well as acts of recognition for employees’ efforts in lockdown.
I can’t help but wonder, however, if the opportunity to work from home and to work more flexibly, the increase in empathy for employee wellbeing and respect for work-life balance, the open lines of communication and clearer messaging, and the very gesture of recognising contributions were, in fact, the underlying cause for increased employee engagement.
The future of work is fluid
Attracting and retaining top talent will be increasingly difficult for the future workplace.
The next generation of talent is putting increasing pressure on employers to facilitate remote and flexible working and to provide them with the tools to do so. Whereas before, clunky hardware and software systems may have been tolerated in an office environment, the success of a business running its operations remotely rests on robust technology infrastructure.
It is also more likely that post-COVID-19, employees will be exploring or already invested in a side hustle to provide the flexibility they value so greatly – not to mention increased autonomy, greater investment in skills, and higher rates of pay. As such, job roles need to mirror this fluidity by being more output based and project-focused, and by realigning how an individual’s contribution is valued by the business. Therefore, not only will the traditional working week and the office environment be a thing of the past, but so too will be traditional job roles.