COVID-19 has completely re-shaped the way day-to-day life works. Aside from the obvious social changes such as decreased interaction with friends and families and fewer chances to indulge in those daily pleasures like shopping or trips to the pub, it is our working lives that have no doubt been affected the most.
For business leaders across all industries and sectors, the scale of change the job market has witnessed in the past nine months has been unprecedented, and this period has dwarfed the challenges seen in previous times of crises, such as the 2008 recession.
Nevertheless, the market persevered and was quick to act in the most agile way possible and, as we come to the end of the year, silver linings can be seen on the horizon, with the hope of a vaccine and improving consumer confidence.
What is clear is that the changes made over the past nine months to fit market needs are most certainly here to stay post-pandemic. Consequently, this means business leaders having to go back to the drawing board to create an updated employer proposition which fits with the ‘new normal’ of working life.
In the summer of this year, Wade Macdonald surveyed 415 professionals to gain their views on the effects the pandemic had on their business. Armed with this information, we have been able to collate views that, hopefully, will help leaders and senior teams create propositions fit for both existing and new employees' expectations as we head into 2021 and beyond.
Working from home
Suddenly, working from home went from being a sought-after luxury to a necessity for teams up and down the country. The majority of the UK’s workforces were uprooted from their desks and forced to work from their homes. Out of the 415 people surveyed, 276 of them worked from home full-time during the pandemic and at face value, the majority were able to work from home well with a dedicated workspace (73 per cent) and had the ability to stick to a strict working routine (73 per cent).
However, on further inspection, we found that a dedicated space could have meant working in an area they had put aside for work (often a dining room or kitchen) rather than a fit-for-purpose home office. Despite the ability to stick to a routine, a large amount of people found it harder to work from home than in the office (44 per cent). During the first few months of home working, difficulties for employees included balancing childcare, incorrect technologies, poor broadband and increasing mental health issues.
Despite these issues however, working from home and remote working has become one of the top requested changes for working models by employees moving forward post-pandemic. With employers now investing more time and money into IT infrastructure, communication and welfare solutions, the ability to work from home has become much easier. Combined with the benefits this way of working has to offer including better work/life balance and reduction of daily workplace stressors, it comes as no surprise that only 12 per cent of employees would like to return to the office full-time post-pandemic.
Nevertheless, one issue employers are having to be mindful of with this request is the inevitable effect working from home may have on mental health. Long periods of isolation away from the camaraderie of the office may have adverse effects such as depression or anxiety. To manage this, it is more than likely that we will see more and more employers offering a hybrid working model moving forward, giving employees the choice to work from home a few days a week and the rest in the office.
According to our research, the optimum choice for employees would be either four days at home and one in the office or 3 days at home and two in the office. It is now up to employers to listen to these requests and create a model that works for both the business and the welfare of its team.
Communication and mental health
Over the course of the pandemic, 28 per cent of employees reported a decline in their mental health for a variety of different reasons, from isolation to worries about job security, health worries to a change of work/life balance, there is no doubt that the pandemic has taken its toll.
Encouragingly however, a large majority of workforces (78.5 per cent) believed their employer did well or exceptionally well at managing welfare during this crisis and that the support systems in place were beneficial.
Communication, flexibility, technology and equipment were the four main areas cited by respondents as the areas where improvements could be made. While the latter two are perhaps a much easier fix with financial investment and training, the first two, especially communication, are things that must be given time and energy to if employers are to get them right.
Moving forward, employers will need to put time aside to listen to each of their employees and work hard to find a balance across their team’s individual needs to ensure communication levels are at their optimum to not impact productivity but to also keep people in the loop and aware of business developments and news.
The pandemic has not only changed how employees would like to work, but also the rewards and perks they are offered for their service to the business or brand. Nearly a third (28 per cent) of respondents said that, as a direct result of the pandemic, their valued benefits have shifted significantly.
As expected, flexible working is the most valued benefit (73 per cent) with financial benefits following suit, such as a pension scheme (38 per cent) and a bonus scheme (34 per cent). Healthcare has risen in importance, valued by nearly a third of respondents (31 per cent) closely followed by parking (20 per cent) and a gym membership (14 per cent).
It could be suggested that changes in values such as parking and healthcare stem from many people being wary of using public transport and undoubtedly people are more aware of their health than previously. Benefits such as discounts in shops and restaurants, free breakfast and discounted memberships were far less valued.
Aside from the pandemic, other big events have taken place over the course of 2020 which have created seismic shifts within the workplace, one being Black Lives Matter. The increase in global conversation around diversity, not just race but gender, ethnicity, ability and age as well, have become staple discussions in board rooms up and down the UK.
Moving forward, our research has found that employees want to see a much more diverse work culture; on a scale of one to 10, employees stated the importance of diversity within the workplace stood at a seven.
It is now up to employers to ensure they keep Diversity and Inclusion at the top of the agenda and make meaningful change from the inside to create that all important culture that employees now expect in their day-to-day working lives.
The pandemic has not only changed the way we work, but how we think about our working practices and methods. It has proven beyond all doubt that the systems in place pre-pandemic and the rigid rules many leaders were afraid to stray from are no longer relevant or viable and that 2021 will undoubtedly be a year of huge, permanent change amongst workforces globally.