The workplace will change for ever after the coronavirus crisis, experts speaking at TTG’s latest Business Support Live agreed.
The panel, hosted by TTG news editor Jennifer Morris, said more homeworking, smaller offices and greater opportunities for part-time work and job shares look set to be the norm. However, duty of care and health and safety are likely to be priorities as staff return to work.
HR and talent professional Claire Steiner said: “Many of my clients are thinking about how they can ensure some form of social distancing, but also ensuring additional cleaning, more anti-bacterial [products] and things like that are available.
“They also need to understand there will be members of staff nervous about coming back; they may be in a vulnerable group or looking after someone in a vulnerable group.”
Employers have to look at flexibility, “they have a duty of care”, she said, particularly with regard to avoiding a second outbreak.
Work patterns might include alternating weeks in the office. “I think that’s great because many businesses have pushed back on flexible working [in the past], but one of the silver linings of this is it’s proved we can all get on and work from home. Having said that, I do feel a lot of people can’t wait to go back into the office,” Steiner added.
C&M Recruitment director Barbara Kolosinska said she had heard instances of companies considering abandoning premises altogether.
“It’s definitely a conversation people are having,” she said. “That’s a whole new model of skill set and culture.”
Future strategies could include hiring serviced offices or meeting only once a week, the panel agreed.
Mel Phaure, owner of Blue Cube Corporate Travel Management, predicted an extension of the furlough period at reduced rates.
“I’d like to think the government will extend it; I think if they do, rather than paying 80%, they might pay 50 or 60%, which actually I’m surprised they didn’t do for June. They haven’t got a bottomless pit [of cash].”
Steiner said the best scenario for travel would be a government-backed staggered return.
“I think they may allow, albeit at a reduced rate, for the furlough to continue maybe a bit longer for those industries that won’t be coming back as quickly as the others.”
Phaure said her TMC had furloughed nearly 90% of staff, with the rest on a reduced salary, dipping in and out of a five-day week.
She advised both employers and employees to be flexible.
“Have that open and frank conversation and see if they are willing to work for less [money],” she said. “You have to be ruthless to a degree just to try and save your business, which will ultimately save all those peoples’ jobs.”
Steiner said staff who were working might be feeling “burnt out and resentful”; while those furloughed might wrongly feel they would be first in line for redundancy.
Kolosinska called the furlough scheme “a lifeline”, though. “I’m not hearing of any redundancies yet,” she said, but warned: “Wait till the furlough scheme ends and I guarantee there are going to be some redundancies.” Her agency was “speaking to candidates, furloughed and unfurloughed” about new roles already.
Steiner urged businesses to follow correct procedures in returning furloughed staff.
“In terms of bringing people back, every business should have had a written agreement with that person where it will clearly state the terms on when people come back, so it will be with notice from the company or when the scheme ends.
“I would say best practice is not to say ‘we’ll see you tomorrow morning’... you might start to phase your furloughed staff back in. Give them a little bit of notice because people will need to turn their heads around a bit.”
She predicted travel’s recovery would be a long process. “It may take two, three, four, five years to get back to really big numbers again, but it is still, as we all know, the greatest industry to work in.”