As a response to restrictions imposed on office working as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, employers were forced to shut their doors and enforce working from home where reasonably possible. Research carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that nearly half of the UK workforce took to working from home following the government announcement. This reflects a sudden change in business culture over the space of a fortnight, writes Keith Tully of Real Business Rescue, company liquidation and restructuring expert.
As a catalyst for employers to introduce flexible working arrangements, businesses will need to consider maintaining flexibility outside of the coronavirus pandemic as employee expectations adapt. In reality, many businesses are seamlessly adapting to working from home by fast-forwarding measures already in the pipeline to supercharge the business with modern communication software. By upgrading the employee experience through existing software already available on the market, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, employers can connect with employees through innovative platforms and bridge gaps in communication.
Responding to changing employee expectations
To avoid employee disconnect after work-life reverts to normality, employers must maintain high standards of communication as enjoyed by employees during the work from home phase. As many may have adjusted and thrived during this period, returning to an office environment will have an impact on mental health and productivity. During this unprecedented period, it’s vital for employers to be sensitive, understanding and actively gauge employee emotions about returning to work.
The pandemic has acted as a large-scale environment for the corporate world by challenging the response and speed of employers to adapt to a more fluid style of working. This has resulted in the likes of extending the scope of internal systems to perform in an external environment, enforcing effective team management and putting a robust IT infrastructure in place.
By offering the same level of reliability to employees in the workplace, post-COVID-19, you can help maintain high productivity, efficiency and ensure service continuity.
Correlation between mental health and remote working
Remote working has had a varied effect on the mental health of employees due to the significant environmental and routine change. Workforces across the country have experienced a drop in social interaction as face-to-face contact in the office has been temporarily replaced with virtual contact. As employees return to the office, it’s instrumental to take into consideration the effect this will have, opening up access to support during the transition process to avoid employees disconnecting from the workplace.
On the flip side of enjoying the flexibility, space for creative thinking and lack of commute when working from home, employees may be feeling pressured to switch off from work when at home. By blurring the boundaries, employees may feel inclined to show a higher level of commitment than at the office which may cause unrest and deteriorate mental health.
Power of embracing emotion in business
During the pandemic, the line between corporate impartiality and neutrality has blurred as many businesses have stepped up and shared their view on the use of face coverings and social distancing measures in the workplace. Businesses have distanced themselves from retaining a neutral public stance and have openly shared their views on the pandemic which brings value to both the employee and customer base. By humanising the business during this tender period, employees are likely to feel more confident about returning to work and putting their trust in the enforcement of Covid-19 secure guidelines in the workplace.
By emotionally connecting with staff, businesses can maintain a presence in the lives of employees as empathy can go a long way in retaining staff members.
Investment in technology and communications
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in more investment to be directed to IT infrastructure due to the sudden virtualisation of interaction between employers and employees. As a result of the change in working style, employers are placing greater emphasis on internal communications to maintain a sense of business identity.
The Business Distress Index for Q2, published by Real Business Rescue, business turnaround and fast-track CVA specialists, shows that the travel and tourism industry experienced grave distress levels during Q2. As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, key industries have been forced to make redundancies and close branches. This could significantly demotivate the existing workforce, which is why as an employer, maintaining a presence in the life of employees during the period of remote or home working is essential.
When returning to the office, workplaces will be embracing the ‘new normal’ as Covid-19 secure guidelines require the enforcement of one way systems, operating to a limited capacity and installing screen guards. As a result, employee expectations should be adjusted to take into consideration high-risk employees, individual vulnerabilities and employee preference in relation to working styles to avoid employee disconnect. As we embrace new social dynamics, employers will have to work together with employees to come to a mutual understanding concerning working style.