On March 16th, 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended everyone who could do so to begin to work from home. One week later, on the 23rd, the UK went into lockdown, with all non-essential businesses shut, closing almost every office in the country. This week, discussions have begun about the possible phasing out of lockdown measures later this year – but right now, and for the foreseeable future, many more people than ever before will be working primarily from home across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Many people are waiting for things to “get back to normal” once it becomes safe to do so. But will we all return to our previous working patterns?
Where previously businesses have had long term plans to expand working from home capability, the pandemic has placed them in a situation where they have been forced to decide and implement measures quickly. Now that those plans are in place – staff equipped with appropriate laptops, phone systems redirected, workflows redesigned to suit the remote set-up – it’s very likely a lot of organisations will seriously consider substantially expanding their staff’s opportunities to work remotely.
We’ve already seen high profile business leaders such as Jes Staley of Barclays discussing expanding work from home and telecommuting options in the future, having been impressed with the success and productivity they’ve seen from their workforces during this time. In the same press conference, Jes speculated that the “notion of putting 7,000 people in a building” could become a thing of the past. If large, complex organisations can effectively work from home, it is definitely going to become harder for organisations to justify the costs associated with very large office buildings – which could in term lead to turmoil for the commercial property sector.
It’s just as much of an issue for smaller businesses, where keeping overheads low is crucial – discussions are happening right now in many organisations about the necessity of maintaining and paying for full-time office space. We may soon see more businesses operating entirely remotely with select use of co-working spaces for meetings.
However, the idea that we are going to see the traditional office disappear in the next year seems a little exaggerated and farfetched. There are many businesses where it would simply not work on a basic functional level – banks with customers who require face to face meetings, for example, or call centre teams who need to be plugged into an automated dialling system. There are also concerns about onboarding new staff; while there are some roles where training could be delivered online, there are also positions where face-to-face training is essential. For many people trying to get to grips with a totally new, specialised computer system, for example, there is no way of replacing the experience of sitting with someone and watching them use it.
Companies looking at long-term remote work will also need to ask serious questions about how their staff feel about that and if it’s negatively affecting their mental health. While people who live with their families in large houses may have a much easier time of working from home, it’s a very different experience for people living alone in small flats, for example, and employers will need to consider this and come up with strategies for supporting remote staff and providing some semblance of a social workplace experience.
At a recent virtual roundtable run by Kind Consultancy, many of our industry contacts were discussing these issues. Thought leaders across Banking and Financial Services and beyond are weighing up the pros and cons on the notion of eventually returning to the office, with all the above issues (costs, the mental health of staff, customer needs) being talked about.
There are also fears that will need to be addressed around data protection. The transmission of sensitive data, whether it’s customer contact details or corporate financial information, is immediately significantly less secure when it’s being moved between remote workers making use of their home internet. The rapid move to home-work has been stressful for many Data Protection Officers and the opportunities for data breaches are rife, not to mention being a very different set of threats than those they’re used to tackling with a centralised office. Any company considering long-term work-from-home options is going to have to think about both staff training and technological solutions to keep their data safe and their liability minimised.
On the other side of the issue, it’s not going to be easy for many companies to return to office work exactly as it was any time soon either. With social distancing rules currently in place indefinitely, employers need to ensure that they’re providing a safe working space for their staff. Some companies are already looking at approaches where they divide their usual full-time staff into different teams and only ever have a portion of the workforce in the office on any given day, with the other days spent continuing to work from home.
The next year will see decision-makers in companies of all sizes having to consider all these factors and more as we re-think our approach to the office. Whether the long-building trend away from traditional office spaces will be dramatically accelerated, or whether we’ll find the way that we use the same spaces we returned to drastically changed, it will be a new and different era for the modern workplace and the modern workforce.
From a recruitment perspective, this is an opportunity to significantly increase the talent pool that companies are drawing resource from. If your team can work remotely, effectively, why not hire the best person in the country for your next opening, with no need to think about the traditional acceptable commuting radius? This could completely change how entire industries approach recruitment. It could be a huge boost to candidates too. If you’re in search of career progression but live in a remote area and are not in a position to relocate, you may suddenly have new avenues opening up to you if you can work remotely for an organisation based hundreds of miles away.
Kind Consultancy is based in the centre of Birmingham, but the team is currently working from home across the West Midlands, and remains available for conversations about your next potential hire or career move, wherever it is. Contact us on 01216432100 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your Governance, Risk, Compliance & Complaints recruitment or career advancement needs.