If 2020 taught us anything, it's that predicting the future is a difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, businesses have the unenviable task of planning ahead for a world of work post-COVID, which might look very different to what has gone before.
When it comes to physical workspaces, the common theme is summed up by "hybrid working".
HSBC, for example, has announced an aim to cut office space globally by 40%, whilst Spotify has announced that it will allow employees to work full time from home, the office, or a combination, whilst also leaving employees to select the country they prefer to work from. This reflects a broader finding by new research that shows 90% of UK businesses expect hybrid working to become permanent, with 70% of workers surveyed expressing a wish to continue to work from home one to three days a week.
While it will be interesting to see the efforts politicians are bound to make to get workers back into city centres, employers tackling the issue of home/office working can do a lot worse than starting discussions with employees now. Particular issues to consider include —
- What to do with employees who are struggling with homeworking, for example because of social isolation or mental health issues?
- What to do with employees who struggle with office working, for example because of child care duties, or for the time being at least, concerns about contracting COVID-19
- What to do about staff training, especially for junior members of staff?
It seems that the best answer to all of these issues is to allow for hybrid working, where practical, and to communicate reasons clearly where it is not. If this is done, legal issues such as concerns about disability discrimination, gender discrimination and unfair dismissal will likely be addressed.
That said, no matter how much our collective thinking about ways of working has been challenged, hybrid working is not the answer for all businesses. But there is a very clear opportunity to use it as a tool to increase productivity, and to attract and retain the very best talent out there.
While the ‘anywhere workforce’ is clearly here to stay, adopting a flexible mindset will be critical for all who want to thrive in what remains a highly dynamic business environment.