Lead Consultant for Tiger HR, Aseel Ibrahim, records a monthly HR podcast to provide guidance on topical issues for human resources staff. Aseel, as a CIPD Level Five certified HR…
Given the massive transition COVID-19 triggered in businesses around the world, it’s no surprise that almost all existing rules were thrown out the window overnight. Since March 2020, companies have navigated through extreme uncertainty and adapt the best they can. To make sense of this new normal, we’ve put together the following comprehensive guide to help employers navigate the world of work post-pandemic.
The state of play
When the coronavirus outbreak first reached the UK in the end of 2020, no one could have predicted the situation we’ve since experienced. On March 16th, the government advised office workers to work from home for the foreseeable future. In light of this, millions of employees starting working from home overnight. Some of our clients adapted quickly, with a complete transition to remote working within days of the announcement, setting up home offices with monitors, office furniture and Wi-Fi boosters, as well as remote working platforms to facilitate their workers at home. They also prioritised internal communications with daily updates, while social gatherings moved virtually. Employee benefits also adapted, with additional flexible working arrangements offered to those struggling with childcare and subscriptions to apps offered, to help with meditation, fitness and nutrition.
At the time, our MD, Rebecca Siciliano, held a webinar for businesses looking for guidance on remote working in a changing landscape. She revealed how Tiger transitioned to remote working, explained some of the ways organisations could connect to their teams, and the impact COVID-19 had on recruitment activity to that point.
As a recruitment company, we’ve seen first hand the impact government restrictions have had on businesses and their hiring practices. While the period of March to August was significantly quieter, with many organisations pausing hiring activity, September brought with it an increase in new job activity across all divisions. This is largely due to the increase in office workers returning to their workplaces, if only on a part-time basis.
As of January 5th 2021, the increase in COVID-19 cases has meant the UK government has been forced to bring in tighter restrictions, including advice for employees to work from home where possible.
The future of work post-COVID-19
In June 2020, we invited three experts on work: Bruce Daisley, host of the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast; Dr Heejung Chung from the University of Kent; and CIPD Director David D’Souza, to discuss business’ reactions to the pandemic, as well their predictions for the future of work post-COVID-19. Watch the webinar in full below.
Throughout the session, they covered:
- The post-COVID-19 office
- The future of flexible working practices
- How the HR community has responded to COVID-19
- The importance of employees’ mental and emotional wellbeing
- The impact of working from home on employees, employers and businesses
- The potential impact of COVID-19 on office culture
- The disparity of remote working options offered to male and female employees
- Qualities employees need to adapt to the changing workplace
- Their predictions for the next five years
The logistics of organising a post-COVID-19 workplace
For HR staff, office managers or administrative assistants, the logistics of coordinating changes to an existing office are front of mind when thinking about the future of work. It’s likely that this is the first step in an involved process to enable organisations to return to their offices. Below, we cover the steps involved in putting together a return-to-the-office plan and what to consider when reconfiguring an existing office space.
A return-to-the-office plan
As COVID brought with it restrictions that had never necessarily been considered, such as social distancing, it’s no surprise employers were unsure of how to approach a return-to-the-office-plan. There are several elements an employer needs to include in their plan:
- A staff survey
- Physical office restrictions
- Internal communication
- A reassessment of existing flexible working policies
- A risk assessment
At Tiger, the staff survey revealed that employees’ main concerns in returning were health-related, especially the risks associated with commuting on public transport. For employers looking to create/update their plan, being respectful of individual circumstances is essential. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to assume what will concern an employee without asking them. They may be coping with a bereavement, childcare/caring responsibilities or their own mental health struggles.
If staff are on furlough, remember their experience of the pandemic will be very different to those who have been working throughout. In fact, according to the Boston Consulting Group, furloughed workers feel less valued than those who had worked throughout (34% of furloughed workers feel less valued by their employer vs. 20% of non-furloughed workers). So, when planning a return to the workplace, keep in mind the challenges that may come with both returning to work and returning to the office simultaneously.
A return-to-work plan should also have a contingency in place, in the event a return to home working is necessary in the future.
Conduct a risk assessment
As an essential element of a return-to-the-office plan, it’s necessary to get your risk assessment right. You may be asking yourself, ‘why are risk assessments important’? or ‘how many steps are there in conducting a risk assessment? Without completing a thorough risk assessment, you aren’t able to identify risks to your employees in a certain situation. Traditionally, an office risk assessment would have included risks such as electrical faults or dangerous equipment that could physically hurt an employee.
As of 2020, every workplace should conduct a specific return-to-work risk assessment for COVID-19 if they have plans to use their office space in the future. This is because there are very specific governmental control measures in place that will allow these spaces to be used, including social distancing, mask-use, sanitisation and ventilation. The risk assessment will usually be carried out by a human resources specialist.
Exercising diligence in your risk assessment is absolutely essential. After completion, you’ll be able to put a plan in place to protect your employees from catching or spreading COVID-19 in the workplace. It should be shared with all employees so they are aware of any changes and risks to their health.
Office reconfiguration post-COVID-19 may be a large part of your return-to-the-office plan. Considering the popularity of open-plan office spaces in previous years, it’s likely partitions or screens will be necessary to ensure these spaces are suitable moving forward. Social distancing between desks, deep-cleaning requirements and signage will also need to be organised.
Alongside physical changes to an office space, consider reducing the number of people in the office at the same time, through split shifts or staggered start times. Hot desking is not advisable, as this may result in cross contamination between teams or offices.
Looking ahead, it’s unlikely offices will ever be able to exist in the same form they did, pre-pandemic. So, if your organisation is yet to return to the office, the above considerations will need to play a part in your future plans.
The future of hiring
While it’s impossible to know how long coronavirus restrictions will affect the way we work, it’s almost a certainty that companies will have to adapt the way they’ve previously hired new staff. Eventually, businesses may be able to return to in-person recruitment, however, it’s likely this will coexist alongside some degree of remote hiring.
Hiring and onboarding remotely
For employers, hiring and onboarding remotely may have seemed like a foreign concept before the pandemic. However, like so many new ways of working, it has become commonplace. For some, this process may now be their default, whereas others are learning to hire remotely alongside their existing practices.
Remote recruitment is a completely different experience to in-person hiring. For example, interviews are conducted over phone and/or video call, which means body language and other subtle cues are taken away from the experience. Getting a ‘feel’ for someone from a handshake or the way they hold themselves in-person may be non-existent.
Some companies may have already experienced onboarding remotely for the first time, and will understand it can be an involved process. For example, whoever is leading the onboarding process will have to be prepared to facilitate regular video calls, organise software to be set up and send physical equipment to the new starter’s house.
Alongside these logistics, there is likely to be a level of uncertainty for the new starter due to the pandemic. They may also feel disconnected from their team and unsure of who they should direct questions to. Companies should anticipate their concerns and put in place many opportunities for the employee to form connections, as well as provide clear communication on who they can turn to for help.
To ensure longevity in an onboarded hire, support from the business is integral. This, as well as experiencing the company’s values and culture, will ensure they settle in and will be ready to take on their exciting new role.
Everything about leadership has changed over the past six months. While the transition first shifted to crisis mode, then to a new version of normal, leaders have found their ability to adapt a crucial skill for guiding their teams. What may have been a formal relationship between managers and their employees in the past, has now developed into a more vulnerable, human connection. As we video call into each other’s homes and see members of each other’s families, a leader’s ‘work’ and ‘home’ faces have become one.
To help leaders navigate the coming months, we asked experts Elke Edwards from Ivy House and Nora Grasselli from ESMT Berlin to reveal their insights into how leadership will change. They cover tips on keeping staff engaged, bringing humanity into leadership, teaching employees’ resilience and offer practical solutions to effective management. Watch the webinar in full below:
Motivating and fostering collaboration within remote teams
For business leaders, one of the steeper learning curves throughout this period would have been the switch to managing teams remotely. One of the top employer concerns relates to their teams not being as productive when working from home. Therefore, motivating remote teams is something many businesses have learned to do by trial and error. Below are some best-practice tips if you’re looking to increase productivity in your remote team:
- Setting expectations
- Increase communications
- Care about your employees’ personal lives
- Instil trust
- Facilitate team learning
- Focus on what’s certain
- Incorporate opportunities to socialise
As the pandemic continues, it’s important to remember you’re also going through the same personal stresses as those you’re leading. In order to manage a virtual team who can collaborate and work together effectively, be open with your own personal anxieties and let your team know your boundaries.
Stay in touch with employees’ mental health
If we continue to work remotely in some capacity, monitoring mental health will be an essential part of the future of work. While an employee’s mental health should always be top priority, the signals a team member isn’t coping can be hard to read via phone or video call.
While the pandemic has been extremely stressful for everyone, some employees may need extra support. If you’re looking to not only monitor, but improve your employee’s mental health remotely, ensure you act proactively. Firstly, check in with yourself – it’s impossible for you to help others if you’re unable to help yourself. Keep up wellbeing and social check-ins with employees and facilitate social catch-ups. The signs something might be wrong could include:
- Becoming quieter or more reserved during calls
- A lack of productivity
- Existing triggers of mental ill-health
- Changes to how somebody usually is
- Appetite changes
- Sleeping disruptions
- Planning to do something out of character
Keep in mind, it is difficult to know what’s going on with someone at the best of times, so continuous check-ins are vital to ensuring every member of your team feels supported.