As the Covid-19 lockdown eases across the globe, we are left wondering what the future of work and life will look like.
Let’s be clear, this pandemic will leave its indelible mark on the workplace, and centuries of occupational habits will never be the same – for better and` for worse.
In April 2017, I published an article on the highly debated and taboo subject of home working. It received much attention, even negative criticism from employers who perceived the subject as divisive, believing it fueled controversy between employer and employee.
Fast forward three years and Britain has suffered 40,000-plus reported deaths, daily life is unrecognisable and lockdown has stunned the country, seismically shifting our ‘work from home’ beliefs and suspicions. But guess what? On the whole it’s worked pretty damn well.
So what will become of the recent changes in working methods when the pandemic is behind us, and we return to ‘normality’?
Official policies and mandates reveal that working from home is, for the foreseeable future, the acceptable norm. These changes will undoubtedly come with a price and prizes to both sides.
Two dramatic enhancers to our lives have been the winning back of time and productivity. No more futile hours commuting, no more being terrorised by timewasters hovering for idle chat. No more time wasted in endless meetings. Now time is carefully scheduled, and respected – tools such as Zoom, Teams and Skype enable us to stay connected from the comfort of our own homes.
More profoundly, some people feel relieved from the unseen yet real intimidation by their bosses, or colleagues being in the same room. And at last ‘the loafers’ in the team have been smoked out, no longer able to let others take the strain.
Surely the adjustments to working environments will trigger a ‘work allowance’? Management now need to consider new financial benefits for those having to journey into work versus working from home, being mindful of retention factors to remain employers of choice.
Organisations will need to change employee contracts, accommodating new conditions of employment as the office or home-based rules will be affected. Those using home offices will expect allowances.
Business leaders talk about the growing importance of mental health and wellbeing. Although there is no empirical evidence (yet) to suggest home working is harmful, there is doubt over whether it is entirely good for people.
As human beings, we are genetically designed to socialise. We thrive in interactive states – prolonged periods of isolation and working alone are unnatural. The effects are not to be underestimated.
In turn, the fear of being set free from lockdown may incite a state of obsessive self-protection in some, making a return to the workplace a rather frightening prospect. These mental states are polar opposites, and employers have no choice but to address them both.
The costs of safeguarding employee health will need consideration – from PPE and social distance guidelines at work, to regular mental health check-ins and personal coaching to help people adapt to new routines, with both employer and employee needing to contribute to the on-cost of workplace changes.
As a recruiter, I believe trust has never been more valued by the employer. Recruitment criteria will demand candidates prove their ability to be trusted. Interview techniques will test the strength of this attribute in talent selection processes. Trust will be rigorously measured as a KPI when ‘not seeing is the new believing’.