As we enter a new tax year and with 12 months of remote working now a milestone for many of the UK workforce as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is a chance to reflect on what that experience has meant for both employers and employees and how the working landscape has changed possibly forever.
With many employees balancing commitments of work, homelife - including until recently for a lot of working parents - homeschooling; the ability for companies to adapt to a new flexible working environment has never been more at the forefront, and for employees, it can be a difficult balancing act to get right.
In theory, the “old” way of working was easier to compute - the commute, the “9-5”, back home to home life, and repeat. And while there have undoubtedly been many pros associated with the new norm - less time commuting, a break for the planet from car pollution, reports of increased worker productivity, more time with family, being there for the latest Amazon delivery; reduced office space requirements, and less absenteeism just some of the reported benefits - there have inevitably been some more negative consequences: staff working longer hours, unsuitable home-office conditions, the lack of professional and social interaction, more time in front of our screens, the undefined clocking-off time. In fact, it is perhaps this inability to draw the line between work and home life that has proved most challenging for many.
An article published in the Guardian last week reported that the government is being urged to amend the Employment Bill to reflect the new working environment now the norm for many. The “right to disconnect” - requiring companies to be legally required to negotiate with staff and agree rules on when people cannot be contacted for work is one policy polling shows has the support of two-thirds of those currently working remotely. The UK is being urged to follow the lead of other countries, such as Ireland, who this month introduced a right to disconnect, to help workers who are struggling with keeping their personal and professional lives separate and to protect their mental health.
Regardless of any new legislation, with many companies in certain industry sectors not expecting a full-time return to the office for their staff post-pandemic, striking the right chord between employers and employees will be crucial to the success or not of remote working going forward. Employers will undoubtedly require peace of mind that the job continues to be done effectively, balanced with the need for employees not feeling under surveillance.
Social and mental health considerations must also be strongly at the top of the agenda - in the absence of Friday night drinks after work or the office birthday cakes and gossips in the kitchen; mentorship and guidance arguably more difficult to function remotely - there is a real need to keep staff feeling engaged, motivated and included - part of the team. For companies, the shift to more flexible working arrangements could have other consequences, for example, the move away from permanent office space to perhaps co-working or hot-spotting environments.
Whatever the challenges - now is the time for companies and staff to embrace the new working dynamics and make the new work norm, work for you.
Sapphire Capital Partners is proud to be an equal opportunities employer, a signatory to the Women in Finance Charter and Highly Commended in the Diversity Champion category at the 2020 EISA Awards. Sapphire is also in the process of becoming B-Corp Certified.