- Introduction – Victoria Romero-Trigo, Finance Director
- Managing remote risks – Simon Mabb, Managing Director
- Wellbeing’s place in the workplace – Andy Romero-Birkbeck, Founder of We Are Wellbeing
- The knowledge economy – Michael Craggs, HR and Business Support Manager
- The rising importance of people – Annie Wykes and Annie Young, Wellbeing Champions
- Predicting the unpredictable – Karen Want, Business Support Manager
- Incorporating brand throughout the workplace – Oliver Calvert, Head of Brand & Marketing
- The future of flexible working – Mark Noble, IT Director
- Conclusion: Protecting the future of your business
The Future of Modern Working
The COVID-19 disruption has caused a number of businesses to reevaluate the way their team works. From introducing flexible hours and remote working right through to upskilling and recognising the importance of wellbeing, every company in the country will have gone through a period of significant change.
But will these changes be temporary, or will businesses need to evolve in order to respond to the future of working?
In this report, we’ve collated opinions from experts throughout the Romero Group. From recruitment and HR through to brand and IT, we’re covering all bases to find out exactly what the modern workplace will look like.
From Victoria Romero-Trigo, Finance Director
The office environment is set to change. Features such as remote working and flexi-time were already on the rise, but the coronavirus pandemic set the wheels in motion much faster for a more drastic, immediate change. It’s now thought that around 50% of the UK workforce will continue working from home in 2020. This not only improves work-life balance for some employees, it’s beneficial to businesses.
Of course, any change comes with a knock-on impact. As the office environment becomes more remote and technology-focussed, business’s needs will shift. The type of personality and skills needed to thrive in a flexible, digital-focussed environment differs from the qualities needed to make an impact in busy, buzzing offices. HR and recruitment professionals will no doubt have to find a balance between matching personal characteristics and unique skills, with digital skills and technological expertise bound to be the top priority for some.
The pandemic has also put into sharp perspective the need for human kindness, contact and connectivity too. Wellbeing has been a hot topic amongst corporations for a while now – but many continue to see this as a buzzword or nice extra to add to their recruitment package. Genuinely incorporating wellbeing into workplace culture takes time, and often input from an external expert in order to provide the advice and insight your employees need. People will now recognise the importance of maintaining good mental and physical health, and looking after one another. With this in mind, wellbeing is likely to play a large part in the modern workplace.
In this report, we’ve collated the opinion of our senior leaders and wellbeing experts. Each provides unique thought and insight on how they believe the future of the workplace will develop in the coming months and even years.
Managing remote risks
Simon Mabb, Managing Director
Remote working is on the rise. It has increased by 25% in the last decade, with this figure set to sky-rocket following the coronavirus outbreak. Workers report increased productivity, lower stress levels and a general rise in happiness and job satisfaction. From a business perspective, remote working can drastically reduce overheads as well as increase staff retention and encourage a more positive and flexible workplace environment.
However, businesses must be careful to manage remote working effectively. Just as managers and business owners would keep a close eye on things in the office, it’s important this mentality is continued in a digital sphere. Regular catch-ups with the team, total transparency over workload and more importantly listening to feedback will help employees to thrive while working from home.
From the get-go, it’s important to be transparent both internally and to your clients. Your customers should know who is working remotely, when and understand the reasons for this.
There is still a slight stigma that working from home equates to “working from home”, i.e. the employee is busy doing their washing or browsing Facebook when they should be on a call. While preconceptions such as this one is altering, it’s still a fairly new phenomenon and it’s natural your customers may be wary of their vital points of contact not being available because they’re not working in a physical office environment. Ensuring standard business hours are always covered by your team is absolutely vital. You may be able to offer some flexibility for staff, but only if you are certain your standard office hours are covered.
Your business operations should not be altered, and the quality of service should not diminish just because your team is working remotely. If this is the case, then it’s clear home working is not the right solution for your employees. Regularly check in with your customers and ask for feedback to ensure that your business is benefitting from allowing your staff to work flexibly. If it’s detrimental to the service you’re able to provide, then you should urgently review your set up.
By now most businesses should have a clear idea of the software and tools that work for their employees. Create a list of approved apps or software so your team is able to access instant messaging, conference calls and other tools without taking unnecessary risks or trialling things on their own volition. Noone wants to be micromanaged, but similarly remote working does not equal free reign. You should have equal control over your staff’s tasks and tools as you would in a physical environment.
We’ve already published guidance on home working for businesses, which includes remote working risk assessments. It’s vital that businesses do recognise and address the risks that come with remote working. Working in isolation and away from the office environment can have a detrimental impact on a worker’s mental and physical health if this isn’t managed correctly. Businesses have a duty of care to all employees, and ensuring a working environment is safe and fit for purpose is part of this. Regularly check in with remote workers, assess their space and address any problems.
From a business perspective, it’s vital you have a suitable IT infrastructure in place in order to facilitate remote working on a long-term basis. Your IT Department should be able to cope with the additional workload of managing remote systems and dealing with any issues. We expect to see a big increase in the number of cyber attacks specifically designed to target remote workers. This includes email scams and attacks on infrastructure. Using secure VPN gateways will be key to minimising the risk of attacks to your system and your data.
Confidential information, data or intellectual property could also be at risk if a large number of your workforce is working remotely. Housemates, family members or even children (particularly those who like to play with keyboards and buttons!) could compromise your business’s data. There’s no magical solution to this, other than basic risk management advice. Keep passwords as secure as possible, try to avoid your employees working from personal devices and train all remote workers to understand these additional risks and help to ensure they’re minimised.
Before signing off any long-term requests to work from home, you must ensure your employees have the correct equipment and broadband speed to carry out their tasks efficiently. The speed and quality of internet connection could reduce productivity, as could a poor workstation if an employee ends up taking sick days for musculoskeletal disorders. These are all small risks that could be largely outweighed by the benefits of offering flexibility, but they’re risks that should always be assessed.
Remember that flexible working simply won’t be suitable for all businesses. While effective remote working has been key to keeping things running during this period, it’s important for organisations to bring their people back together when it is safe to do so in order to reinvigorate a feeling of community and belonging within the business, which can be lost when working remotely.
As we enter a new era of working, it’s important employers remain vigilant and continue to mitigate the chance of incidents occurring. Here at the Romero Group, we’re looking forward to welcoming all our teams back to the office and navigating this “new normal” together.
Wellbeing’s place in the workplace
Andy Romero-Birkbeck, Founder of We Are Wellbeing
The number of businesses buying into the importance of wellbeing has increased in recent years. Following the coronavirus pandemic, the need for wellbeing support has skyrocketed. People have suffered from mental health problems, physical complications (such as aching bones, eye strain, headaches and more) and social relationships have been harder to maintain than ever before.
As the UK workforce begins to head back to office life, wellbeing will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ addition to workplace culture. It will be a vital component to keeping employees happy and healthy.
Wellbeing is not as simple as organising a yoga class at lunchtimes and encouraging employees to eat well. The four pillars of wellbeing (mental, physical, social and financial) must be considered in order to truly make a difference to your employee’s lives. This means incorporating physical activities with social events, offering counselling or providing seminars and workshops to educate staff on the importance of wellbeing.
You know the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same applies here. You can give your employees the platform to enjoy wellbeing activities (mindfulness sessions, events after work, yoga classes) or you can run seminars and workshops to really educate your team on the importance of a specific topic (such as healthy sleeping habits or cardiovascular health).
It’s all about deciphering between superficial benefits and long-lasting impact. Yes, superficial benefits can give your staff a boost. Who doesn’t love free fruit or a chance to catch up with colleagues over a drink? Going to yoga classes at lunch time could benefit employees who wouldn’t get chance to hit the gym otherwise.
But studies do show that superficial perks won’t help your employees or your business in the long run. Comprehensive wellbeing programmes do, however, provide great return on investment. Employees feel more engaged, productive and generally happier when working for companies where workplace wellness is a priority. Personal development plans, regular one-to-one feedback sessions and an Employee Assistance Programme all helps to ensure your employees feel motivated and supported both in their professional and personal lives.
As our workplaces become more fluid and flexible, with employees working remotely and enjoying increased freedom to decide their own working routine, the likelihood of employees drifting apart increases also. How do we ensure colleagues connect and communicate effectively when the working day is less structured?
The key here is instilling a genuine sense of positive workplace culture. Encourage people to want to work with your business. Show your team you care about them. Tell them how they make a difference, and show gratitude for that. Empower your employees to do their best. By instilling this sense of care and openness, your employees are more likely to show loyalty back. This is particularly important in such a competitive business landscape, where employees are likely to hunt out benefits such as remote working and wellbeing packages rather than salary or bonuses when making their next career move.
We Are Wellbeing offers a unique CPD Accredited Wellbeing Champions Training Course to help businesses continually promote wellbeing, even when experts aren’t onsite. Wellbeing Champions are employees within the business who are the ‘go to’ group for wellbeing activities. They can be a listening ear for employees, and signpost people to any additional help they might need. We’ve found this programme invaluable for integrating wellbeing into day-to-day company life.
Managers and business owners need to tune in and listen to their employees’ needs. This is particularly prominent during such uncertain and challenging times. Remote workers may experience burnout or high stress levels – something which is difficult to spot when you’re not in someone’s physical presence. Find out how your employees are feeling and address any difficulties they’re facing. The future of the workplace will undoubtedly see a shift towards greater listening and mental health care. Cultivating a welcoming, open environment where employees can open up about their mental health and wellbeing struggles will be key to instigating meaningful change within a business.
Following the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important now than ever before that businesses step up and put their people first. Promoting wellbeing and helping their people thrive is without a doubt the best way forward.
The Knowledge Economy
Michael Craggs, HR and Business Support Manager
Recruitment will undoubtedly change following the coronavirus lockdown. Businesses have suffered tremendously, with thousands of jobs still at risk.
In the immediate future, it’s unlikely job openings will receive a great deal of applications. This is because people won’t want to make big life changes during times of uncertainty. Indeed, research from WaveTrackR indicates a 47% drop in job applications in February 2020 when compared to the year before. Those made redundant or with low job security may be on the hunt for a new position, but this will be sector-specific.
The criteria businesses are looking for will change. Extroverted people who are the life and soul of the party may boost an office environment, but may not always suit remote working. Personality types respond differently to different environments, and recruiters will be able to take a more flexible approach. Similarly, employers are more likely to look for strong candidates with practical, real-life work experience and applicable skills. While degrees and formal education will continue to be beneficial, we’re likely to see this decrease in essential importance.
As the pandemic has shown, technology is playing an ever-increasing part in the way we all work and communicate with one another. Employing people with inherent digital skills makes total sense from a business perspective. They will have a greater knowledge of using secure systems, which will in turn minimise security breaches or the success of cyber attacks. After all, the greatest threat to your business is your employees.
Existing employees may also feel the benefit of this trend. Businesses are more likely to want to upskill and train loyal employees and keep retention rates high. Designing training programmes and investing in online learning platforms will be of great benefit to both organisations and their employees. Why seek new people to plug a gap within your business, when you could train your existing employees and improve their knowledge?
Recruiters and HR managers are also more likely to experience job package negotiations. Gone are the days where an employee may demand a higher salary, or annual bonus. The future of the workplace is all about flexibility and options. Be prepared for flexible working requests, such as condensed hours or remote working options. Businesses must work hard to polish their employee offering ready for a new era of job seekers.
From an internal viewpoint, HR professionals will be prioritising getting back to the status quo following so much disruption. Employees may feel uncertain and anxious for many months following the coronavirus pandemic, and will turn to HR for advice and assistance. Of course, employers want to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. Like everything, any adjustments to working life takes time. Those used to working from home may struggle to get back to working to their full capacity from a busy working office that’s full of distractions. Similarly, those not suited to working from home will soon be in their element. Providing a voice of reassurance and understanding is key. If your business plans remain transparent and your door remains open, employees will come to you for help and you will continue to foster a fantastic workplace culture.
Technology versus human connection. The rising importance of people
Annie Wykes and Annie Young, Wellbeing Champions
We’ve learnt many lessons during the coronavirus lockdown. The two I want to touch on in this article are…
- Technology is the future
- Technology isn’t everything
Of course, technology has enabled us to survive this lockdown. It’s given us ways to communicate with each other, work from the safety of our own sofas and keep up to date with global news.
But it’s also shown us that we can’t live without one another. Connecting with each other both professionally and socially is part of what makes us human. Speaking via a pixelated conference call or a series of emails just isn’t the same as having a catch up over a cup of tea.
The future of the office is likely to incorporate far more technology and digitisation. People will be working from home more often. We’re more likely to opt for a phone call rather than travelling across the country for an hour-long meeting. But we’ll also see people coming together and supporting one another. We know, now, how vitally important this is.
We can’t predict for sure how the coronavirus will impact our economy, society or businesses. However, we will all need strength and resilience to get through these challenging times.
Discussions around mental health have increased, with many now recognising the importance of talking about our wellbeing and self-care. Companies are likely to implement programmes and strategies to encourage employees to talk about their anxieties as they recognise the real need for better support systems.
“Be kind” was the mantra running across our headlines just a few weeks before the pandemic broke out, and this has continued to be an important message throughout the disruption. Acts of kindness, compassion and bravery from our NHS staff, key workers and members of the community have been circulated constantly. We only have to look at Captain Tom Moore to see how much heartwarming stories have gripped the nation.
The future of the workplace must prioritise its people. Encouraging people to discuss and look after their mental health, socialise and connect with each other and find the right work / life balance will be key in the coming months. Whether it’s a virtual pub quiz or a real night out, businesses will make a concerted effort to bring its employees together.
Studies show nearly three quarters of people find having friendships with their coworkers boosts their workplace happiness. These bonds don’t just happen overnight. Businesses can nurture a welcoming and friendly environment. Organisations can take small steps such as setting up a social Slack channel for all employees to contribute to, or setting challenges centred around wellbeing to encourage integration and highlight common interests between employees. We might need technology to facilitate our social activity, but it’s shared experiences that bring us all together.
Predicting the unpredictable
Karen Want, Business Support Manager
We can all agree that businesses across the country will have either floundered or flourished during the coronavirus pandemic. Either way, now’s the time to review what happened, what worked and what didn’t, and how the business could and should have responded differently.
Businesses that had a robust Business Continuity Plan in place are now seeing the benefit whilst those that didn’t are suffering the consequences.
Business Continuity Plans are the ultimate strategy for when things go wrong. And the very nature of these plans means that although you can’t always be specific about what incident could lead to its implementation, you will have an adaptive framework of what are deemed the main scenarios in your plan, enabling you to be in a position to act quickly and efficiently to minimise losses.
After all, who envisaged a pandemic?
The effect that this Pandemic has had on most business sectors will no doubt see companies being more wary in the future, with a priority being placed on proactive risk management and planning, rather than reacting to a crisis as and when it happens.
The best way to minimise the risk of a disaster affecting your business and maximising your ability to recover is by creating a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan with the help of risk management experts.
A key part of any robust Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plan is the rehearsed testing phase which allows you to understand how your plan will operate when an incident occurs. However, following an actual incident (in this case the pandemic) is an ideal time for businesses to answer key questions and then either develop and implement a plan or review and improve their existing plan.
It’s now time to bounce back. In the future, we’ll see businesses taking risk mitigation far more seriously. They’ll be putting measures in place to defend their business, including exploring additional insurance policies. While terrorism or cyber attacks are unlikely, the pandemic has shown that it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Companies would be wise to explore all options so their business is protected for all unexpected incidents.
Incorporating brand throughout the workplace
Oliver Calvert, Head of Brand & Marketing
The natural reaction to a crisis is to hunker down. Pull down the shutters, regroup and shut out the world. Particularly in a situation like we’re seeing now with colleagues distanced from each other, and customers locked down. It’s all too easy to put on the brakes, avoid investing in the future out of fear and uncertainty, and lose focus on where you’re going.
To survive and thrive through this challenging period and beyond, it’s important that businesses focus on their people. Uniting as a single force to drive your business forward and come out of the other side stronger, and continue to grow in the wake of the crisis.
It could be easy to let a focus on brand slip throughout this and into the future. Write it off as something that isn’t a priority right now, and something to be reinvested in at a later date. But now is not the time to be short sighted when it comes to building your brand both internally and externally.
With a dramatic increase in remote working right now, and a prediction that this will fundamentally change how we work in the future, the importance of building a strong external and employer brand is paramount.
After all, when your employees are working together in an office, they are literally surrounded by your business and brand. Whether it be through strong internal branding, being immersed in your company’s products or services, or having a direct connection to other people in the business. It’s easy to feel a part of something, because you are physically surrounded by it.
But create distance between people, and that tangible bond disappears. Yes, teams will speak regularly to each other, and will still be focussing on their work from home. But rather than walking past your brand identity each day on the way into work, and being surrounded by physical representations of your brand, they’re more likely to have the kids’ finger paintings to look at, or the kitchen cabinets. Which don’t exactly immerse them in your business.
Home working can be a fantastic thing, and it’s keeping us all going for now. But it distances people from the brand they work within.
A brand is only as strong as the people who deliver it, so it’s more important now than ever to reinforce your brand to your people first and foremost, as well as promoting it to the outside world.
Now is the perfect time to bring your brand to life. And be creative in doing it. Invest in regular branded communication – use emails, personal videos from senior figures, virtual social events and regular internal community activity that people can rally around and get behind. This will all make people feel integrated into your business.
And remember your brand is not just your logo or your latest promotional message. Your latest marketing line or campaign will come and go. Your brand will remain indefinitely. It’s important to think long term, and not be distracted by trying to achieve quick wins. Take an opportunity to really teach everyone in your business what your brand stands for, its personality, and how it should be represented. Because the more your teams understand that, the more a part of it they will feel.
From receptionists through to directors, everyone should feel fully bought in to what you represent. Because everyone has an impact on how your business is presented.
A strong brand is the foundation of any business. And with distance separating remote workers now and into the future, powerful branding both internal and external can be the virtual walls that bring your people together as one, when they’re not side by side.
No one knows where we’ll be in several months’ or several years’ time. The only certainty is that there will be uncertainty. So give your colleagues and your customers the consistency that will make them feel a part of something. Unify them behind one brand. One personality. One message. And they’ll not only feel a positive connection to your business, but it will shine outwards and help your business thrive.
The future of flexible working
Mark Noble, IT Director
When it comes to flexible working, there are two main implications for IT professionals. The first is fluidity in start and finish times. As people request flexible hours, the number of technological stumbling blocks they may experience out of hours will increase. An IT department simply cannot be on call 24/7, unless this is part of a wider business restructuring. However, most IT departments are flexible and often do respond to users working outside the 9-5. As a business, though, it’s important to ensure IT infrastructures are sound. This will help to minimise disruption through the working day (whatever that may be for individuals).
The second implication is remote working. An IT department can’t be responsible for dozens, or even hundreds, of home offices. Members of staff use different equipment and have different levels of broadband connectivity. The key for businesses is to implement a “catch all” infrastructure, such as using a secure VPN gateway which reduces risk. Perhaps insisting an individual has a certain broadband speed before giving the green light to work remotely would be sensible too. We also recommend that all personal equipment used by staff when working from home is vetted and approved by IT professionals. This will ensure spam and antivirus software is in place, thus minimising risk of attack.
In both instances, security is key in order to prevent cyber attacks. These are rising tremendously due to the coronavirus pandemic and the number of people now remotely working. Businesses must ensure that they’re vigilant both now and in the future. Simple steps such as ensuring staff use secure passwords, and regularly change these, is paramount.
Businesses should already be training their staff on the importance of cyber security, but in the future this is likely to increase. Employees should be aware of their responsibilities, but it’s ultimately the business’s responsibility to ensure they’ve trained their team to recognise malicious emails, links, phone calls or even text messages. On the topic of training, it would be sensible to ensure your IT department is appropriately equipped with the knowledge and expertise they need to assist home workers.
It’s also a business’s responsibility to future-proof the organisation, whether a flexible working policy is in place or not. Disaster Recovery Plans are key to understanding how your business could cope with disruption, and identify control measures that could be put into place to mitigate the risk. Often one of the biggest failures for organisations is an individual withholding specific information such as passwords or access codes. Whilst we’re not suggesting this should be on a shared drive or written on a post-it note, at least one other person should have this information in case of disaster. Businesses should also ensure they have suitable backups in order to avoid long periods of downtime.
The future of the workplace may seem uncertain at the moment, but for IT departments technology has always been ever-evolving. IT professionals should be ready and willing to learn new things and grow their knowledge. Businesses just have to be open to suggestions and prepared to listen to advice that will ensure safety and security.
Protecting the future of your business
Whatever the future holds, make sure you’re prepared for the ‘what ifs’. This means training your team, investing in the IT hardware and software you need and getting your Business Continuity Plan up to scratch. But you should also consider your insurance requirements. Do you have the right cover in place to protect you against the unexpected?
We’re all about planning ahead, particularly for the things you can’t plan for. That’s why your insurance policy is there for you through the tough times. To protect you financially, and to give you total peace of mind.
The future workplace will be complex and ever-changing. Make sure you’re prepared for what could be just round the corner. When you work with an experienced insurance broker like the Romero Group, you know your business is in safe hands. We’ll get to know you and your individual requirements, so we can tailor your policy. That means you’ll get all the cover you need at the most competitive price.
For more information about protecting your tomorrow, today, get in touch with our team.