As lockdown restrictions are irreversibly eased, we are no longer asked to continue to work from home (WFH) if we can. Over the last few months workers returned in the hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail sectors, yet many more businesses have had workers continuing — even preferring to — work from home.
Pre COVID, the majority of businesses favoured more traditional ways of working with a workforce based at a place of work. But the pandemic accelerated the need to adapt, coupled with increased take-up of technology (much of which already existed), and highlighted that the physical place of work is not as important or deemed as essential as previously thought.
At the moment there are two contrasting approaches to either the return to business or getting to grips with the new norm: either the hard-line return to the place of work or to indefinitely working from home. The latter though is likely to be a mix of WFH and some in-person attendance at the employers’ premises, so-called hybrid working.
Certainly, it is challenging for employers to decide what might be best for them, having to balance the needs of the businesses and those of its employees. In many cases WFH has suited employers and employees alike, often providing for a better work/life balance, without loss of productivity, and perhaps even some sense of novelty.
Though WFH has not suited all, either due to the nature of their work, access to suitable technology, lack of a ‘space’ to work in, general wellbeing and mental health. And we should probably expect for COVID restrictions or the need for COVID security to mean that we might not see a full return to work for all.
So are businesses really under pressure to consider how they manage workforce? Is it paramount that we decide whether it’s a full return or time to offer hybrid working for all? It would seem many small and medium sized businesses have not considered their approach, perhaps either because they are pre-occupied with day to day matters, or more likely they don’t know where to start.
Perhaps the start pointing is asking the question, what has changed? What is different about my business, how, who and where we work?
Whilst doing nothing may seem the easiest option, it could be the costliest. Those businesses that don’t consider the lasting impact of the pandemic on the way we work and want to live our lives could be at risk of loss of personnel, challenges in recruitment and find themselves less competitive and profitable in the longer term.
There is also a risk that those offering hybrid working or perhaps even more extreme full and permanent working, fail to consider the wider implications.
For centuries the place of work has provided a sense of identity and purpose, it has been a place that has harboured and embraced an organisations culture and values, it has been a power house for innovation, creativity and collaboration, a place to nurture, train and develop staff and physical representation of the business to its customers and marketplace. Can all this be replaced purely by digital connectivity?
Please don’t think this is the viewpoint of a luddite advocating a return to the office, more is the thought and concerns of someone who feels there is a real need for a well-considered approach to the way we all work in a post pandemic world.
James Pinchbeck is Partner at Streets Chartered Accountants, a top 40 UK accountancy practice. James, as a specialist in marketing professional services, is responsible for the development and implementation of the firm's strategic marketing as well as its engagement in the community it which it works and serves. His role allows him to capitalise on his broad interest in the national and local economy as well as his passion for enterprise. As part of his wider interest in enterprise, marketing and education, James is a board member of NBV – the East Midlands Enterprise Agency, an FE College Governor and a board member of the University of Lincoln’s Business School. He is also an Institute of Director’s past Branch Chairman.