The arrival of coronavirus has, within the short space of a month, caused a seismic shift in the way we work.
A quick browse of social media will throw up images of coffee tables repurposed as desks and cats flopping onto laptop keyboards, next to stories of frazzled parents juggling deadlines with home-schooling, as a nation of office-workers adapts to staying at home.
Such a quick transition has no doubt caused many a headache for managers and IT professionals as they’ve had to suddenly re-evaluate priorities and deal with technological teething problems.
But at the end of this, humour and frustration aside, I can’t help thinking that workplaces will be forever changed for the good, having learned more fundamental and positive lessons than just how to organise a Zoom meeting – and employers need to be ready.
In recent years, employees (millennials, in particular) have been demanding more opportunities for flexible working and a greater work-life balance. Now, coronavirus has not only forced businesses’ hands but shown that it really can and does work.
With fresh working-from-home experience under our belts, it seems unfathomable that working life will go back to the way it was. Plus, the ongoing development and emergence of technologies means the old-school rejection of remote and flexible working is no longer tenable. Indeed, employees are going to be less tolerant of dated practices (such as an “always-on” working culture) they may not have been happy with for a long time.
Flexible working can greatly benefit parents of young children, carers of elderly parents or those with long-term health issues – to name a few – helping them to stay in work and ensuring their skills and experience are not lost.
However, if offered more widely, flexible working can also have profound morale-boosting effects and provide opportunities to seize that all-important work-life balance. Indeed, recently my husband began working from home permanently; being able to eat dinner together at the same time every night, which I never thought was a big deal, has already brought us closer together.
As we appreciatively clap in support of our key workers, expect to hear more raised voices over fair pay as we come to understand the true value of roles such as nurses, carers, supermarket workers and delivery drivers – many on low incomes or minimum wage. The chasm-sized gap between the rewards bestowed on top executives and frontline employees will require greater justification, while the actions of toxic leaders will be met with intensified scrutiny.
The current situation has given many of us perspective on what is important in our personal lives, but the focus on key workers, especially, has highlighted the businesses and the roles that we really can’t do without. Once we’ve turned the corner on Covid-19, I predict that organisations will need to be crystal clear about what their purpose is, what their aims are and, vitally, how they intend to add value to our society.
This is evident by the plaudits won by those companies who have gone the extra mile during this crisis. Businesses who have adapted their models to help others or who have donated funds and services, have not just earned positive headlines but the respect of the public and their employees.
For example, restaurant chain Leon is delivering meals to NHS workers at a discount, while Brompton Bikes have donated 200 bikes, hire free, to key workers. In the future, corporate social responsibility of businesses will therefore be high on the agenda and to meet the expectations of employees and customers alike.
Whatever happens next, I am excited to see the new world of work that is already emerging – it’s just a shame it has taken a pandemic for these issues and opportunities to finally be given the credence they deserve.