What impact has the past 12 months had on the workplace?

16 March 2021

It was one year ago today that Matt Hancock, the Minister for the Department of Health, announced to the House of Commons that all social contact should cease with immediate effect and people who could should now work from home. 

So we felt it was a good time to look back at the impact coronavirus has had on the workplace, the cultural shift and what changes will remain after the global pandemic has official ended

Few would argue that our reaction to the virus has brought about a more dramatic change to our working lives than anyone would have thought possible at this time last year.   However, with the benefit of hindsight could the changes we’ve been forced to make actually provide us with a positive opportunity to build more effective and more profitable businesses?

The most visible example of the impact of coronavirus on the workplace has been the shift to remote working.  Remote working is something many businesses have debated for years but aside from some of the leading tech businesses, few were willing to take the plunge.  That is until March 2020 left most businesses with no choice.

As we reflect on almost 12 months of remote working, we can see a lot of the long-held objections to working from home have proved unfounded. 

Thanks to video conferencing platforms like Teams and Zoom, many of the professions who would have previously considered themselves to be totally unsuited to working remotely are now functioning perfectly.  Even the most complex projects and transactions can be progressed with a combination of virtual meetings and the electronic distribution, approval and signing of documents.

And the efficacy of home working is now supported by statistics.  People working from home are actually proving more productive. 

Partly this is because employers have refocused their efforts on their staff’s outputs rather than inputs.  If we have learned one thing since last March it is arguably that what we do and when we do it isn’t important, what we achieve is actually the most important metric.

With the emphasis now being placed on what rather than when, working from home has also provided workers with a better work/life balance. 

People can pick their own hours and factor in things like childcare and exercise that would otherwise not have been possible while working in an office environment.  When you couple this with the hours (and pounds) that are being saved by not having to commute, it’s easy to see why a lot of people are now pushing for remote working to become standard.

For us, this will be the legacy impact of COVID on the workplace.

However, homeworking does come with some risks.  Firstly, there is technology to consider.  If your people are going to work effectively from home, they must have a broadband connection they can rely on and the right hardware. 

Security is another key consideration.  Your data could be compromised either during transfer between multiple unsecured locations or if employees working from home use their work computer for personal purposes.

The need for anti-virus and firewall software to be installed and kept up to date on your team’s PCs has never been greater, particularly if your team is using a shared or even public internet access.

And your employees need to know they have a part to play.  If people are keeping equipment at home, it needs to be properly secured and not taken out of the home in case it’s left in a public place.  You should also repeatedly reinforce the need to use and regularly update ‘strong passwords’ and making sure your workers understand your IT policies and their data security responsibilities.

The security of hard copy documents must also be a priority. 

If people are home printing, is that network secure?  Have you made sure people are no longer linked to office printer networks in case sensitive documents are printed by mistake and left lying in paper trays?  Have you made it mandatory for historic documents to be stored securely or - better still - shredded after use. 

While remote working will almost certainly be the long-term legacy of the pandemic and perhaps even something future employees will insist upon, this is the time to consider how to establish remote working as your standard operating procedure.  We’d suggest you start that process by doing three things:

  1. Speak to your employees to find out how they want to work long-term.  Use their feedback to create a framework that both facilitates their preferred way of working and takes into account the different personal demands of your staff so your new framework is wholly inclusive.
  2. Review the last 12 months.  What worked?  What hasn’t worked?  How have your practices and systems changed?  A thorough evaluation will allow you to identify and rectify what you need to ensure the long-term success of your remote working policies.
  3. Set out a clear communications strategy.  How are you going to keep people updated?  How are you going to share your plans, your performance and - most critically from a morale point of view - your successes? 
  4. Additionally how are you going to make sure all your staff continue to communicate internally?  This is crucial, not only from a business efficiency point of view but also in terms of providing the support and human contact your people will need?

If you are wondering how best to navigate the return to the office for your organisation and your team, get in touch for a free evaluation of your workplace management software and solutions 

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