A year on: The new workplace

11 Feb 2021

A year on: The new workplace

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that coronavirus has changed the way we all work. Whilst working from home and the response to flexible working requests have been on the agenda for employers’ for some time, the global pandemic has accelerated those conversations and in many instances forced the hand of employers who may have otherwise been resistant to change.

“Remote work is the future of work” – Alexis Bhanian

Over the past ten months employers have seen that working from home is not only possible, but for most organisations has been a success and will continue to be available post Covid. For many client’s, conversations are no longer around whether employees are productive at home but instead whether their employees need to return to the office at all. The CBI/PwC financial services survey found in September 2020 that 74% of companies have been reviewing their office requirements in the hope they will be able to reduce it long term with the rise in remote working. In addition, nearly 50% of the individuals surveyed commented that more than 90% of their employees could do their job completely from home without the need to attend the office. We will therefore definitely see a reduction in the need for office space in the City. 

With home working here to stay, the big question now is… will pay be affected by a move to a more remote working model for organisations?

Impact on salaries

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has impacted salaries, with budgets significantly lower than in 2019-2020, salaries across commerce and industry have become stagnant, if not reduced, which can be said to be particularly true in the Legal profession. With annual salary reviews delayed, bonuses slashed, and many corporate benefits cut, the question for a lot of employees will be- when will this be reinstated? 

The Economic Times have reported that only 33% of appraisals and bonus pay-outs are happening as planned. In the same report, in more positive news, 83% of companies are looking to review their WFH policies but, with WFH here to stay, how will employers balance the reduction in commuting costs against the increased cost of household expenses. This will likely shine a light on certain corporate benefits which will be increasingly important such as pension schemes, home office allowance and health care. 

As difficult as the balance may be to reach, it is safe to say that the priority remains in getting people back to work. The Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, in a technology conference said “we’ve seen a rapid rise in inactivity among workers – both people being made unemployed, but importantly… eight million people underemployed as a result of furlough schemes… that’s a level of inactivity in the jobs market we haven’t seen, possibly ever.” The pandemic has resulted in the biggest drop in economic activity since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The future of working from home

With WFH becoming more of a factor for employees when considering new opportunities, it is important businesses embrace this increased flexible working approach if they wish to retain and attract talent. Whilst there are some disadvantages to employees working at home, these disadvantages will usually relate to those working from home 100% of the time and not just for part of their working week. Businesses will of course need to implement good home working policies to ensure that staff do not feel isolated, implement new strategies to monitor performance and manage any potential home distractions. However, for many people, the advantages of working from home will outweigh the potential disadvantages.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Flexibility with staff able to start earlier or work later to meet business needs by reducing commuting time.
  • Wider candidate pool- less geographical limitations therefore making it easier to attract talent. 
  • Better retention of staff. Most employees having now worked for the majority of the last year at home, want WFH to stay in some capacity. 
  • Better work/life balance and therefore improved mental health and well-being of staff.
  • Savings on office space, utility bills and other financial savings for employers. Financial savings for employees on commuting costs etc.
  • Productivity and motivation levels will be increased. Staff will likely work longer hours and will feel trusted by their employer. 
  • Increase in women returning to work even on a part time basis.

A greener society

Although we don’t immediately associate WFH with the environmental impact, it has had a remarkable impact in the reduction of pollution. Lockdown has had drastic effects, with NASA and ESA indicating a reduction of 30% in pollution levels. With around half of London’s air pollution coming from road transportation and reports showing that nearly half of trips made by Londoners could be cycled in around ten minutes, it is unsurprising that the drop has been so vast. The key question will be how to maintain lower levels of pollution moving forwards. 

Whether you sit in the pro WFH camp or not, it is clear that employees want a more agile working environment post Covid, this will most definitely be on the agenda for businesses if it is not already. With a reduction in needing to go into the office and people looking at alternative forms of transport such as cycling, this is a prime opportunity for radical change towards a greener society with a focus on work-life balance, mental health and general well-being.

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Zoe Alex

Zoe Alex

Managing Director