Earlier this year the jobs board and review website Glassdoor released a new feature allowing employers to post Covid-19 related updates. The updates were a window onto how employers were positioning themselves in the midst of a global health crisis.
“We noticed that the updates which really resonated were when companies aligned their mission with a higher purpose,” says Glassdoor’s director of communications Joe Wiggins. “Pharmaceutical companies posted about their work towards finding a vaccine but even broadband providers hit the right note but saying ‘Our customers, which include the NHS, need us more than ever’. Good employers need to highlight the role they play in helping people to find solutions to big problems.”
It will be fascinating to see whether there are any obvious lasting changes to ‘employer brand’ after the pandemic. Will the values that employers espoused during the crisis – sense of purpose, flexibility – persist or will they revert to the old ways? And, just as critical, will the best talent be looking for a new set of qualities from potential employers?
A turning point for productivity?
The real question here is whether employers’ behaviours and working practices will actually change. It’s all very well to laud a ‘sense of purpose’ right now, but will that new-found zeal stand the test of time?
In one area many people believe the pandemic could be a turning point: that’s productivity. The crisis has forced a radical shift in working practices – both in the UK and across the globe. The challenge for employers in future will be to demonstrate, in a real way, that theirs really is a productive environment.
“Lockdown has created legitimacy for certain ways of doing things now that we thought would never be productive,” Dr Sreevas Sahasranamam, research fellow at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde recently told Raconteur.
“For example, the assumption that our working culture is based on a need for people to have a physical space where they must be monitored physically to be productive. Coronavirus has forcefully shaken up this concept. They’re getting the same kind of work done, with minimal or no commute.”
It’s worth noting that many were forecasting an enormous hit to productivity as a result of lockdown. In fact, many employees have shown resilience in this area, and have adapted well to new, remote working practices.
It seems that the UK workforce has adjusted remarkably well to the new work style. According to research by global consulting giant McKinsey, conducted during lockdown, 41% of workers say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28% believe they are as productive. The report noted: “Many employees liberated from long commutes and travel have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and decided that they prefer to work from home rather than the office. Smart employers will surely want to preserve that productive intent.
If the Covid-19 crisis means we say goodbye to ‘presenteeism’ – the insistence that employees be at their desk in an office for fixed hours – then that will be a blessing. Various researchers put forward that presenteeism can cut individual productivity by a third or more. And very few organisations are immune to this threat: a 2018 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) found that 72% of employers had been affected by presenteeism and almost a third believed it was on the rise in their organisation.
Could the new ways of working spell the end of this scourge? “When working remotely, you measure more by output than input,” says Jonathan Austin, founder of Best Companies, which produces the UK’s employer ranking: The Best Companies to Work For. “It’s less about the hours you work, because your manager can’t see that as obviously as when we were all sitting in offices. It’s about the quality of work you deliver, and the speed you deliver it at.”
Opening up your talent pool
Jonathan Austin also believes the pandemic will open up the catchment area for recruitment. “Many organisations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture, and significantly reduce real-estate costs.”
“It’s exciting,” he says, but he warns that these new ways of working also come with their own challenges. “It’s difficult to be productive when you have a little one at home, for example,” he says. “It also takes a lot of responsibility to manage ourselves. For employees and managers, new disciplines are required.
“And we have to be mindful of the high achievers,” Austin continues. “These people won’t know when or how to stop, when working from home. Strong managers will need to help them because when you’re engaged and enthusiastic, you’ll keep working late. That could lead to burn-out.”
If you’re looking for ways to write these new working practices into official company guidance, read our guide to implementing flexible working here.
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