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Workforce of the future – what’s next and how can your business adapt?

Allen Associates was proud to be a partner of the Workforce of the Future webinar hosted by law firm Royds Withy King and featuring keynote speaker and practical futurist, Andrew Grill, former Global Managing Partner at IBM, in conversation with employment law specialist, Malcolm Gregory.

The Covid-19 pandemic and first wave of lockdown restrictions in 2020 has fast-forwarded workplace innovation, with five years of change having taken place in just six months. Over 300 people attended the webinar to here Andrew Grill and Malcolm Gregory discuss the ways in which the UK’s workforce and workspaces have changed, new issues and emerging trends, the legal ramifications for employees, what the next five years will bring and how to tackle future challenges.

You can watch the hour-long webinar here or read the highlights below.

Let’s fast forward five years…

Andrew began by outlining his vision of what the world of work will look like in 2025:

  • There will be a Covid-19 vaccine, but people will still be getting infected
  • There will still be some restrictions around movement in place
  • People will be used to the 10 second commute to their kitchen, study or spare room
  • With the adoption of remote working, people will be moving out of cities

Since Covid-19 upended our lives, employees have settled into the mandatory remote working. Now, as companies try to decide the best way forward, it’s clear that many employees don’t want to stuff the genie entirely back into the bottle. For many employees the benefits of remote working: better work-life balance, no commute stress, money savings, increased productivity and performance and a more positive environmental impact far outweigh the negatives such as the blurring between home and work lives.

At the moment, companies are managing in varied ways. Some such as Google, Royal Bank of Scotland and Amazon Corporate have given employees permission to continue working remotely until at least 2021. Others like Aviva are allowing for a small number of people who need or want to work from the office with the majority of employees still working from home. Going forwards, Vodafone expects to use a mixture of office based and remote working.

How can employers’ best support employees back into the workplace?

Malcolm suggested some practical immediate things:

  1. Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. Take your time with gradual returns to work to test health and safety measures in practice.
  2. Ensure you have communicated your risk assessments and the health and safety measures you have put in place so employees feel comfortable about returning to the workplace.
  3. Finally don’t allow things to drift; remote working was an immediate and temporary response to the pandemic. The longer employees are working from home they can argue that their contractual arrangements have changed.

For those employees who don’t feel comfortable about returning to the office and are looking for a hybrid option, Andrew suggested the idea of a ‘third place of work’ which has been very prevalent in the news recently. The ‘third place’ is a concept in sociology and urban planning that recognises the role semi-public and semi-private places play in fostering collaboration in the absence of the traditional workplace. With more people shopping online, there is real opportunity for struggling shopping centres to pivot and become third places/co-working spaces. Westfield London’s owners have submitted a planning application to convert two thirds of the flagship House of Fraser store into a WeWork-style office space.

For organisations considering this option, Malcolm reminded employers that the legal issues are the same as for staff working remotely at home:

  • Healthy and safety assessments need to be done
  • Employers and employees need to be mindful of the GDPR obligations
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs) should be used to secure data

It is clear that as a hybrid option, there are some real benefits to the third place of work:

  • Takes away the intrusion of working from home
  • Re-orientates a sense of community with employees and the organisation
  • Allows for collaboration with co-workers
  • Avoids a lengthy commute in the office
  • Organisations can benefit from the flexibility to increase or decrease their space and the length of lease terms, depending upon the business’ success and evolving need.

Andrew suggested the following tips to build a trust-based culture when people are still remote or hybrid working. He said it’s not enough to ‘do agile’, you have to BE agile:

  • Adopt daily Scrum meetings where each individual answers the following questions: what did you do yesterday, what are you doing today and is anything impeding your progress?
  • Collaborate better via Teams and Zoom
  • Investigate the feasibility of having a third place of work to meet and work at in between home and office
  • Find the internal collaboration champion in your company (or appoint one!) and ask how they use the tools within your organisation
  • Encourage sharing by ‘working out loud’. Build a culture where value is based on what you share, not what you know
  • Become digitally curious and understand how digital can help your business.

Finland

Finland has been ahead of the curve in flexible working. The Nordic nation has embraced agile working for decades. It’s a style of work well suited to the country’s deep-rooted culture of trust, equality and pragmatism. The benefits speak for themselves: the country is the happiest one in the world, with the highest trust levels in Europe and its citizens speak of a high sense of autonomy and freedom.

The Gig executive

Andrew expanded further on the concept of the new Gig Executive who will have several employers. Employees willing to live the gig lifestyle are likely to be more fulfilled and will transfer complementary experience between each of the companies they choose to rent their time to. This will impact on how we secure intellectual property and requires a radical rethink on things like pensions and accrued leave. A word of caution, if your partner is also a Gig Executive and works for a competitor, how will you maintain confidentiality?

Andrew concluded by warning of the unintended consequences of people continuing to work remotely in the longer term. These include skills development deficit, effect on the local economy, organisations looking to make pay cuts. Facebook, for example, is allowing employees to work remotely but will adjust their salaries based on where they live, the death of office hubs in Canary Wharf and other locations and mass migration from our cities.

Malcolm’s final takeaways to the audience about what they need to do now to meet some of the future challenges, included:

  • If you have a flexible working policy, check to see if you can update it to reflect any recent adaptions to your organisation. If you don’t have one then put one in place
  • Put flexible working on your strategic people agenda and give it some serious thought
  • Consider surveying your employees to gauge the appetite for change on a more permanent basis and identify their fears and issues from the recent lockdown
  • Act globally but think locally to make sure you’re alive to any regional or local differences that may exist in your organisation. For example, the issues for a manufacturing site in Manchester will be different to those faced by a financial services organisation in Birmingham
  • Find a way to measure how effective these changes are to your organisation’s output? A happier workforce with lower levels of sickness and more engagement should lead to increases in productivity that will add to the bottom line. But how will you measure that?

Useful contacts

For more information on how your business can successfully adapt to the workforce of the future and any other employment law issue, please contact Malcolm Gregory, Head of Employment and HR at Royds Withy King, at malcolm.gregory@roydswithyking.com

The Workforce of the Future webinar was created and run by Royds Withy King.

Allen Associates is involved in key events each year as well as running its own popular programme of Zoom HR Hubs featuring the latest employment law advice and topical discussions, led by a guest speaker with expertise in that particular field. To find out about forthcoming HR Hubs, please contact Kate Allen at kate@allen-associates.co.uk

About the author

Kate Allen is Managing Director at Allen Associates. Having worked as a recruitment consultant for many years, Kate was determined to do things differently when she established Allen Associates in Oxford in 1998. She wanted to create a recruitment business which delivered a bespoke service centred on the needs of Clients and Candidates.

Her eye for talent and potential and her passion for service excellence has enabled her to build a team which shares her values and consistently delivers outstanding results. Kate remains a strategic driving force of the business and has management responsibility for Allen Associates’ offering in Oxford and London.

Find out more about Kate and the rest of our team, here

Kate Allen

Kate Allen

Kate founded Allen Associates in 1998 out of a determination to build a recruitment business which delivered a bespoke service centred on the needs of clients and candidates.

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