With Covid-19 restrictions easing across the globe, we explore how workplaces have changed in this post-pandemic world and how management are creating the new normal.
Upon entering our third year of a global pandemic, it’s safe to say that there have been unprecedented changes to every workplace. Terms that barely existed in 2019 are now at the forefront of our minds (think Work From Home) and office spaces once bustling with life now lay empty. Furloughed employees also have a greater understanding of what they want from their job and therefore, they now hold significantly more power than ever before. With the introduction of shorter working weeks, reduced office working and greater use of technology all direct results of the pandemic, we explore just how workplaces are navigating this new world.
Where We Work
Pre-pandemic, many of us wouldn’t have even considered homeworking an option and so carried out our daily commute to the office without the thought even crossing our minds. Office culture was so deeply ingrained within the corporate world that having a moveable workspace simply didn’t seem necessary. This is visible in 2019 as less than a third of the UK employed population (27%) worked from their home at some point over the year, according to Annual Population Survey (APS) data. Unsuprisingly, this figure grew in 2020 to an average of 37%, following government guidance to work from home where possible. We don’t doubt that this figure had the potential to be even bigger but with many firms furloughing employees, those that could have worked from home simply didn’t work at all during this time.
Now three years on, there has quite clearly been a distinct shift in attitudes towards homeworking. Data from the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) showed that of businesses that had not permantly stopped trading, almost one quarter (24%) intend to use homeworking as a permanent business model going forward. Meanwhile, an impressive 85% of working adults working from home in Spring 2021, admitted to wanting to use a more ‘hybrid’ working approach in the future. So what caused this change in attitude? Well, homeworkers reported a significantly improved work life balance when asked what advantages they had experienced since swapping workplaces; other benefits included improved wellbeing, fewer distractions and better/faster task completion. Businesses have since reported their own benefits such as improved staff wellbeing, reduced overheads, increased productivity and even reduced sickness levels. With both parties equally benefiting from this new arrangement, it’s clear why we’re proceeding further into this decade with a new approach to where we work.
When We Work
Covid-19 and it’s force of furloughed employees successfully managed to shine a light on the idea of a four day working week, although it must be said that this conversation had been around long before the pandemic, really gaining traction in 2018 due to the Perpetual Guardian Four Day Week Trial. The new found freedom and excess of spare time experienced during the pandemic meant that people could evaluate what truly made them happy and thus, quickly made decisions on how they wanted to spend their life both in and out of the workplace. Many readers will know the saying “We dont live to work, we work to live” but pre-pandemic, how true was that for you? Our routines often get so deep-rooted when repeating them over time, so much so that it can be difficult to realise when we are taking on more work than needed. Starting work early, leaving the office late and checking emails on a Saturday are all major signs of ‘living to work’ and it wasn’t until we didn’t have to do it, that we even realised we were.
Businesses were quick to adapt to the demands and desires of their workforce (at least the ones focued on employee wellbeing and staff retention were) and so began the rollout of flexible working hours and the highly-celebrated four day working week. But why is the 4 day working week so celebrated? Well, Perpetual Guardian found that by giving employees an extra paid day off in the week encouraged them to fundamentally change how they worked. They were able to manage their usual 5 day workload in a mere 4 which proved more beneficial for both employees and employer as they reported:
- 20% increase in productivity across the business
- 27% decrease in work stress levels
- 45% increase in employee work-life balance
- 40% increase in employee engagement
As a result of Covid-19, workers have placed a higher value on their families, their time and their work-life balance than ever before, for that reason traditional ways of working and regulated hours of work are becoming less and less relevant in today’s society. Many companies will soon adapt this new approach so ‘when we work’ is set to change forever.
How We Work
Although video conferencing software was available pre-pandemic, many of us lived our lives without the need to use it. It was naturally assumed that any scheduled meeting would be done in person, with no regard to the length of time it would take and how long the journey might be. From my own experience, travelling to London, Birmingham and Bournemouth (from Oxford) to meet with suppliers and clients was rarely seen as an issue in the years before 2020 and actually, was just considered part of the job. Fast foward to present day and I almost always opt for a virtual meeting using programs such as MS Teams, Zoom or WebEx. Scrapping travel and meeting virtually means we all have greater availability, therefore the time it would have taken for just 1 meeting can now be utilised for even more. Not only does this increase our efficiency, it means we can build better relationships with our suppliers by meeting more regularly to keep up-to-date on any news, issues and updates.
These video conferencing tools have revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, whether that be colleague to colleague, colleague to client or colleague to customer. In 2020, first-time installations of Zooms mobile app rose by more than 700% and unsuprisingly, Microsoft also saw a 500% increase in the use of it’s Teams software. With hybrid working more popular than ever, video calls are now successfully replacing face-to-face meetings while maintaining high levels of collaboration. But how? Well, online meetings level the playing field by shifting power imbalances. In contrast to face-to-face meetings in which you typically have management at one end of the table/room and lower level staff at the other, online meetings give everyone the same screen space which naturally allows people to feel more comfortable and confident to speak up and impart their views. Having a team that feel at ease collaborating will unleash a whole range of benefits such as boosted morale, increased productivity and an increase in motivatio, therefore it is evident why workplaces have changed how they work.
There is still so much we don’t know about how the working environment will evolve in 2022, especially amid ever-changing circumstances and increasing Covid-19 variants. Additionally, with the UK’s largest ‘4 day working week’ trial on record running from June to December 2022, there are bound to be significant findings that will shift the workplace once again in the succeeding years of 2023 and 2024. Other factors and threats, such as war and recession, will undoubtedly be faced in the near future and so (I think it’s safe to say) we can only expect and prepare for more shifts in our new-found working ways.
It is evident that creating the new normal is an ongoing task, year on year, in response to external threats and factors beyond our personal control. Working in a post-pandemic world certainly looks different compared to 2019, but it is also important to remember that our practices and standards in 2019 were unquestionably different to those used 5, 10 or 20 years before. So, in summary, times will keep changing and we’ll keep adapting. Creating the new normal is a task that can never be completed, it’s simply something for all managers to constantly work at.
Written by Sophie Wilkinson