How Covid-19 will change the landscape of work?

“We are never going to go back to how things were before.”

“We are never going to go back to how things were before.” Those words, spoken by the British Council for Offices (BCO) chief executive Richard Kauntze, chimes with the growing tide of thought that Covid-19 has permanently changed working patterns.

When the UK went into sudden and immediate lockdown in March, the world of work changed in an instant. Entire industries froze and all those who could, worked from home.  Makeshift offices sprung up in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms, Zoom took over the world and people adapted to a new way of working. Fast forward half a year and, although some offices are gradually opening up with Covid measures in place, the official government advice for the UK is to work from home if you can. This has accelerated a move towards flexible working being something expected and asked for by candidates if it is not openly offered by employers. What does this mean for the future of work and the expectations of both candidates and clients?

Flexible working is not a new phenomenon, it is something that was building momentum before the pandemic hit – Covid simply accelerated its adoption across the world of work. Mere weeks before lockdown, Wave held a Talent Matters event which focused on the rise of flexible working and our predictions that 2020 would be the year it would begin to be more widely accepted and offered by a greater range of companies. We published a series of articles on the changing demographics that drives a need for workplace flexibility and the practicalities and benefits of it. Little did we know the world of work was about to change overnight in an extraordinary and unprecedented way.

A number of studies have been conducted into workplace policies post-Covid and all show a rise in businesses, employees and jobseekers expecting the increase in home working to be maintained in some way. In a BCO survey of 2,000 office workers 62% of senior executives and 58% of entry-level workers want to alternate between home and office working. A poll of nearly 1,000 businesses by the Institute of Directors (IoD) found that 74% planned on continuing to keep working from home an option for employees into the future and more than half stated they would reduce their office space. The ONS has reported that nearly a fifth of businesses are intending on maintaining home working as a permanent business model.

There will almost certainly be an increased demand from candidates for flexible working options. The advantage they now have is that industries across the board, including several that have traditionally been averse to home working, have had to introduce it and many recognise that it works, with productivity boosted. The IoD survey also found that, of the businesses that had already cut office space, 44% believed working from home was “more effective”. Home working is undeniably a more effective use of time. Cutting the commute saves valuable time that can be invested back into work and allow employees to enjoy more free time.

Of course, there are also many who don’t want to continue to permanently work from home for various reasons, which is why there will always be a place for the office. What is likely to be increasingly offered in the future is a form of hybrid working, where there is flexibility over home or office working, split over the week. That will allow teams to come together and the social aspect of work to continue but with the benefit of the increased productivity and flexibility of home working remaining. This sort of hybrid working will benefit industries such as recruitment where there tends to be a high number of sociable personality types.

With enforced home working over lockdown, businesses already have the technology in place to enable remote collaboration and effective communication. Many used the period of slower business during lockdown to review the tech they do have to ensure it is both cost effective at a time when everyone is having to tighten their belts and up to the job in this new world we have entered. Recruiters and candidates alike are now used to video interviewing and client meetings via Zoom or Teams is the norm.

What does an increase in flexible working mean for the recruitment industry? When you’re not bound by location, a far larger talent pool is available to you. If employees can work from home most or all of the time, it doesn’t matter where they live, whether they have a car, if they can access public transport easily. This opens up the pool to a more diverse pool of candidates in every way, something that can only be a good thing. Working patterns will have to be managed and some employers might need persuading but there is no question that businesses will have to adapt if they haven’t already. The important thing for employers is to listen to talent and allow their employees to work in a way that is best for them – a sure-fire way to get the best out of people.

Transitioning into this new world of working will involve more change and much consideration. How do you optimise productivity and engagement with remote teams? How can you ensure employee wellbeing? How will you maintain company culture? How will you measure whether new practices are working? However, the opportunity is there for positive change in the workplace and that should be embraced. One thing’s for sure – flexible working is here to stay.

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