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The future world of work

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23/04/2020

While businesses will now be considering what their “exit strategy” is in a post-furlough world, it’s worth remembering that there are positives which can be taken from the current situation.  Businesses across every industry have had to adapt in significant ways – and whilst there are likely to be hard decisions to be taken in the near future, there are also many lessons to be learned from this.  We should all therefore be considering which aspects of these new ways of working we want to (and should) take forward.

We’ve therefore put together an “eight-point plan” for employers to consider.  The first four points focus on short-to-medium term actions and the second four points focus on longer-term goals.  In both cases, employers should be asking: What can we be doing now to ensure our business is fit for purpose and prepared for the future?

What does a post-furlough world look like?

  1. Review of workforce roles and numbers – We shall deal with the negative point first: consideration will of course need to be given to which roles your business has been able to operate without and whether there is likely to be a continued reduction in certain areas of work (and therefore a need to consult about potential redundancies, restructures and/or changes to terms of employment), rather than a quick bounce-back. On the flip side, for those people working in key areas (such as shop workers and the food manufacturing industry), we are already seeing demands for wage increases (to recognise their value) – those will have to be factored into planning. Read our recent article “Flexible furlough, post-furlough planning and alternative workforce measures” for more information.

 

  1. Up-skilling and re-training – Some roles and skills will have emerged as absolutely key to the running of your business. For example, almost every business will feel indebted to its IT teams.  In addition, other employees might have found themselves taking on new tasks and responsibilities, such as developing media content for the business – particularly given the huge increase in the use of social media to stay connected.  Are there people who could re-train or up-skill into more business critical roles? Or indeed new roles to service customers’ new demands?  If there are skills gaps, employers may well need to look further afield and recruit from overseas.  We have set up a business immigration hub to assist employers with this.

 

  1. “Just-in-case” model – Many businesses operate on a “just-in-time” model. Should you now be thinking about changing this to a “just-in-case” model in preparation for future unforeseen events such as these?  Such a change in approach will inevitably affect your supply chains, production line requirements and contractual relationships with consumers, suppliers and agency workers.  Looked at through a different lens, consideration of the issues businesses are now facing should be factored into the next iteration of disaster recovery planning.

 

  1. Social distancing in the workplace – It seems inevitable that the concept of social distancing will remain imperative for a fair period of time. How can employers effectively implement this?  Consideration should be given to staggered returns to work, flexible working/shift patterns (including staggering start and finish times and breaks), and better use of workspaces.  This could actually be a useful “testing bed” for some of the “future ways of working” below.  Read our Social Distancing article for more information and watch our webinar recording where this topic was discussed in detail.

Future ways of working

  1. Agile and flexible working – Many businesses had few or no staff working remotely before the pandemic. Of course, for some, such as manufacturing, it wasn’t possible, but for many it was due to a pre-conceived negative view or simple reluctance to tackle the challenges and technology.  Attitudes are most likely to have changed.  In addition, staff with childcare and other caring responsibilities will have been working flexibly in different ways and at different times.  This will hopefully give employers the ability to recruit from further afield and also lead to a more diverse workforce. Just a note here to some comments that the Chancellor made during the first announcement of the furlough scheme, which are likely to be laying the foundations to a wider review of the gig economy/employment status debate.  The Government will be likely to pursue changes, as it will raise more revenue via tax and NI and be a general vote-winner as no doubt the message will be, “if you want protection from the State, you have to contribute your share”.  The net effect is that businesses should be careful before basing their economic recovery around a self-employed workforce. Watch Charlotte Smith’s video nugget for more information on agile working and read our The Age of Agile Working article which explores these issues more indepth.

 

  1. Technology and automation – Investing in technology, automating processes and digitalisation may have already been on the agenda, but the current situation has only added to the case for greater and faster investment. Automation and technology can lead to greater capacity, greater monitoring and data collection, and less room for error. This links to the suggestion of up-skilling the workforce and seeking to recruit those who have the skills needed to create this technology, operate and analyse new technology.  Such advances will allow even more roles to be carried out remotely (including those which no-one would have previously considered capable of being carried out remotely, such as production line operators).

 

  1. Motivating and incentivising the workforce – In this uncertain time, people can struggle to feel motivated. It’s therefore important that employers think about how they can make employees feel valued and bring teams together – virtual social engagements such as group exercise classes and quizzes look set to replace traditional team days out!  Employers will also want to consider fair remuneration and reward for those who have been key in keeping the business running.  Given that cash is likely to be tight, thought should be given to non-cash benefits and even equity/LTIP arrangements for key workers who the business needs to retain to ensure success.  This is also consistent with the concept of “stakeholder capitalism” that has been discussed at places such as Davos. Read our recent article on employee and stakeholder engagement, and why businesses should prioritise social, environmental and ethical considerations.

 

  1. Mental health and wellbeing – Many of us will be blurring the lines between work and home life, so managers will need to ensure they are engaging with staff and consider ways of ensuring employees are taking regular breaks and holidays. There’s also the potential long-term impact on mental health, which employers should prepare for by encouraging employees to talk and share positive experiences, as well as putting in place comprehensive employee assistance programmes.  This should be coupled with good old-fashioned communication, in whatever form that takes! Read our Mental Health Awareness week article for some top-tips and recommendations for businesses.

While changes can be difficult to implement, it is important for both employers and employees to embrace the new challenges ahead and maximise possibilities which, prior to this pandemic, may have seemed to be reserved only for the distant-future.

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