What does the future have in store for the world of work? We spoke to industry leaders to find out.
Within days, the UK shut up shops, pubs, restaurants and closed down offices and schools. Despite some businesses returning with shops, pubs and restaurants being permitted to open their doors; other businesses have been a little more reluctant to return.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is urging people to ‘get back to work’ but, as we spoke to industry leaders, it’s not going to be easy persuading commuters to return to the rat race.
O2 recently conducted a survey about remote working and found that 45% of people believe they won’t return to the work in the way they were used to prior to the pandemic.
Maria Fernandez, SMB Trading Director at O2, said: “We found out that almost half of the people that we interviewed believe that they’re not going back to work in the same way as they were before.
“Almost 67% of people also said that flexible working was the second most important factor for them to accept a job, after salary.”
Within days companies had to discover new ways of working and new tools to interact with colleagues. We’ve probably all used Microsoft Teams or Zoom within the past few months and, after seeing the success of platforms like those; CityFibre’s Paul North, Head of Regional Sales, doesn’t expect the popularity of such applications to wane.
He said: “Rather than think about ‘what does the new normal look like’ I think it’s more ‘what’s the next evolutionary step’.
“It feels very strange now to be commuting one to two hours a day and to perhaps travel halfway across the UK for a 90-minute meeting when that could be done on Microsoft Teams.
“Nothing will ever replace face to face and relationships that you build with people through meetings and nothing will ever replace those quick conversations in the corridor or at the coffee machine and getting things done in the office but there are collaborative tools that are available now and we’ll take the best of both.”
Work-life balance is crucial to employees and, in January 2020 research showed that 2 in 3 employees were looking for a better work-life balance in new jobs. Fast forward a few months and, having been forced to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, an incredible 62% of people say remote working has had a positive or very positive impact on their work-life balance.
Daryl Pile, Managing Director Indirect at Gamma agrees that work-life balance will be better and said: “What COVID-19 has done has given us three years of digital transformation in three months so it’s rapidly accelerated what many companies and businesses had in mind anyway and it will positively impact on our work/life balance more than ever before.”
Despite the positive impact remote working appears to have had on the nations work-life balance, it’s also forced several businesses to look inwards and reassess business continuity strategies and the adaptability of the business.
Richard Roberts, VP of UKISA at Mitel explained: “Who could have foreseen that stores would be almost out of bounds for three months at the flick of a switch? The ability for a business to be nimble, for a business to keep their customers front and centre and the ability of a business to move from physical to virtual in the blink of an eye is going to become more and more important.
“I think there’s a true understanding right now that business continuity and business resilience is something that needs to go all the way through an organisation. It’s important that we revisit how we have supported remote workers and it’s important that businesses understand that being remote isn’t the issue, it’s the role that’s the issue. Can the individual that is working remotely conduct their role in an optimised fashion? Wherever people are, they should feel engaged.”
Staying engaged with employees and colleagues could be a challenge in the months ahead should businesses remain at home on a permanent basis however, Samsung is confident mobile devices can add to the positive work-life balance many are currently seeking. Vinny Robertson, Account Director at Samsung said: “As we adapt to new ways of doing business one thing is certain; mobile working will continue to be a big part in how people work.
“Businesses around the world are realising the benefits of giving people more freedom, employees are enjoying the increased work-life balance that it offers and with the right technology I think people are learning just how productive they can be working solely from mobile devices.”
Despite many commuters staying away from the office, there are concerns amongst some that it can’t be a permanent solution for the sake of people’s mental wellbeing.
Paul North, CityFibre expressed his concerns and said: “I’m not necessarily sold on 100% working from home because I think that then has a detrimental impact on mental health. I think the best of both, being able to work 50% at home, 50% in the office will mean that people have a much better work/life balance and people will be more productive because they’ll want to work harder and they’ll have more energy. I think it’s a really exciting time ahead and I can’t wait to see what the next couple of years look like now.”
Although many businesses managed to react to the pandemic and are still navigating the choppy currents, others have seen a catastrophic end to their livelihood.
Richard Roberts, Mitel, gave his thoughts as to why that might have occurred and said: “We’ve seen the winners and the losers over the last three months; many of the losers are those that didn’t react. Many of the losers are those that banked their entire business on a single monolithic structure that they had a particular way to market and they believed that would live forever. Well it can’t when you have this kind of crises. It’s important that you have multiple strings to your bow and it’s also important that you know how to project yourself through those different mediums.”
Looking ahead to the next few years in UK business, there will undoubtedly be several adaptations of ‘the new normal’ with each business working to find a way that is not only effective for their people but also successful from a financial point of view.
Julien Parven, Marketing Director at Daisy Communications, said: “Looking further ahead we believe that businesses will be operating virtually. But for those that fail to adapt, that decision may prove costly, may even prove terminal.
“However, for those that plot their own digital transformation, there are opportunities to be won and there are gains to be had. But in any instance, organisations operating in the future, post-COVID-19, will be working in a world without walls.”
Technology will also play a huge part in the evolution facing the world over the next months and years and will arguably shape the way we work, live and play in a world post-COVID-19.
Richard Thompson, Managing Director Indirect at TalkTalk Business said: “I think the new normal is very much ultimate flexibility.
“It’s about not being constrained by geography but being empowered through technology.”