As we move towards Step 4 in the Government’s Roadmap to easing lockdown, businesses are looking at how they best navigate the coming months – and even years – as they consider what the new normal will be in terms of their day-to-day operations.
Whilst there is still, inevitably, much uncertainty about what the future holds – not least about whether restrictions will indeed be eased further in the next few weeks – organisations throughout the region will have, for some time now, been planning how they will move forward. Particular attention will be given to how they will look to manage their employees and the fine balance that needs to be bridged between continuing to work from home and a return to pre-COVID operations.
For some, ourselves included, the return to offices and workplaces began last summer when restrictions initially started to ease but for many, perhaps due to circumstances surrounding the nature of the business or a desire to wait for more certainty before making a commitment, it is only now that firmer decisions are being taken about what the way forward will look like.
In some ways, whilst hugely disruptive, and for some hugely devasting, the short, sharp shock of the country being forced into lockdown in March 2020 was an easier situation for employers to handle than the one currently being faced. There was no choice. The situation was at least clear; businesses had to do whatever was needed to get their teams set up and running from home as quickly and as efficiently as they possibly could. And whilst the optimists amongst us possibly viewed it as a temporary situation lasting (hopefully) a matter of weeks – at worst months – even the most pessimistic were unlikely to have envisaged that we would still be conducting meetings via Zoom or Teams and may not have seen colleagues in person in well over a year (or at all if they started a new role!).
The question of ‘what happens next?’ is not one which there is a universal answer with different approaches being considered and for some, decisions not being taken until well into 2022. Working from home has, in the most part, been quite successful; and even for those businesses for whom pre-COVID it would not have even been on the table for discussion, naturally the questions are now being asked – do we even need to return to the office at all?
Employers are faced with several potentially tricky dilemmas. Some employees may be desperate for a return to normal workplace life, others may have grown accustomed to the flexibility and more relaxed work life balance of being based at home. Some industries – such as manufacturing - may have to also consider how they handle situations where some roles are clearly defined as workplace-based versus those where they could be done remotely. Do they take a one-size-fits-all approach or do they try and meet the needs of their employees on an individual basis and if so, where do the compromises need to take place and how do you build unity and inclusion?
In the most part, there has been a collective ‘get through it the best we can’ spirit from both employers and employees. However, a more permanent shift will throw open several other considerations including the provision of suitable equipment, health and safety reviews and security measures to protect sensitive information.
From a recruitment perspective, the decisions that are made now could have a significant impact on a company’s ability to attract and retain talent moving forward. Those that feel unhappy with the outcome – whether that is a return to the office or continuing to work from home – may find it is the push that they need to look for an alternative role. And given that all businesses, even those of similar sizes, in the same sectors, even direct competitors, will all potentially be putting in place slightly different arrangements, factors which may previously have not even been part of the decision-making process could now the very thing which tips the balance in favour of one job offer over another.
There is also potential to muddy the waters when it comes to identifying what the ideal candidate looks like when briefing a new recruitment assignment. Previously simple criteria such as ‘a commute of no more than an hour’ suddenly no longer matters when everybody in the organisation is home-based, potentially opening up a much larger pool of candidates from which to draw from. However, this does not necessarily make the process any easier and without real clarity from the outset, it will likely, lead to a blurring of lines as a more varied range of decision-making factors come into play.
Employees also have questions that they need to ask themselves. Creating a makeshift work area within the family home on a temporary basis is one thing – but if the arrangement becomes more permanent, what do they need to have in place? Is there the space available to create a dedicated workspace on a long-term basis? There will also undoubtedly be less ‘turning a blind eye’ to a colleague’s poor wi-fi connection as employers, team members, clients and customers become less forgiving than they were towards those ‘making the best of it’ in difficult circumstances.
In addition, they need to look at how their career prospects may potentially be affected. Do they possess the necessarily skills to effectively manage their teams remotely on a longer-term basis? How to do they motivate and inspire when they may work alongside some team members day-to-day whilst others are based at home? Ensuring a consistency of message across a more disparate team or organisation will be a new test of leadership for many and one which will require those looking to make the step up into a more senior role or move roles to have a robust, yet flexible, approach to making it a success.
Unlike the initial plunge into lockdown, the emergence will not be done overnight. It could be many months, if not years, before we can fully regain a sense of normality. I am often asked if I expect that we will all eventually return to a more traditional Monday to Friday 9-5 office-based culture; my reply is always the same “certainly not any time soon”. Indeed, the coming months and possibly years, will most likely see businesses try and piece together the different steps, as if they are trying to master some tricky choreography, as they attempt to settle on the ideal solution.
During the first lockdown I heard a phrase which has stayed with me during these times; we might all be in the same boat but we are not sailing the same sea. That certainly rang true however now it is not just the sea that is different, the boats are too.
Sharp Consultancy specialises in the recruitment and executive search of finance and accountancy professionals. With offices in Leeds and Sheffield our highly experienced team of consultants recruit for temporary, interim and permanent roles across the full spectrum of positions throughout Yorkshire and beyond. CONTACT US today and speak to a member of our team about your recruitment needs or next career move.