Last reviewed 18 February 2021

According to Mind Edge, 80% of small business did not have a remote working program before the pandemic. The mass uptake of working from home has influenced business owners to re-evaluate how they organise their staff. What does this mean for workers and employers alike?

One of the most conspicuous consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic is how businesses now organise their workforces. Mass WFH (Work From Home) which started as a stopgap as millions of workers were furloughed, became the norm for thousands of businesses. Faced with a very different business landscape, how and where their employees operate from has changed forever.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that most businesses that took part in the Mind Edge research had no defined remote working policy before the pandemic. And more worrying is that just 12% of respondents said remote working had a positive impact on their wellbeing – particularly their mental health.

"For many people, remote work has blurred the line between 'work' and 'life,'" said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge Learning. "One of the biggest complaints from survey respondents was that they were unsure when it was time to end work for the day; as a result, we suspect that a lot of folks are working longer than they might be if they were still at the office."

Speaking to Croner-i Business-inform, Erica Wolfe-Murray, business growth expert and author of ’Simple Tips, Smart Ideas’ says: “As the pandemic starts to come under control, companies and their management teams are going to be reconsidering how they want to run their operations. Smaller, flexible space offers the opportunity to lower overheads, rotational working, the mix of home task delivery and office interaction coming into play. It will not be a one-model fits all either in how companies develop their practices or how individuals look to work for their employees.”

The working environment has been changed forever. Existing workers and those entering the workplace for the first time will have to be native remote employees as the structure of companies is in a state of flux. Being flexible and working efficiently from any location will become essential skill employers will be looking for when recruiting vacant positions.

New environments

Croner-i Business-inform spoke with Sarah Danzl, a skills expert at Degreed.

The mass uptake of working from home has influenced business owners to re-evaluate how they organise their staff?

“The shift to working from home in many ways has given people greater flexibility over their work. Businesses have also had to become more agile and responsive to market changes. The way teams are organised and operate must also evolve due to this and the future may see more project-based teams that are set-up and disbanded as needed, instead of solely role-based work.

“A marketer may work on a digital marketing campaign one week, then be deployed onto a social media campaign the following week, and so forth. Not only will this create greater workforce agility. However, it will also improve skills use and job satisfaction as workers shift from project-to-project and are constantly challenged.” 

WFH looks set to continue. The use of freelancers, contractors and other contingency staff will also become the norm. What does this mean for workers and employers alike?

“As hybrid workforces become more common, increasingly businesses will need a skill-based approach to resourcing and recruiting teams. Collecting skill data from all workers, permanent and contingent, will enable people managers to quickly find the talent they need for a task or project based on an individual’s skills.

“Using skill data will help managers understand the talent they have in their teams and who can potentially work well on a project, at a time when remote working means managers don’t have as much oversight or knowledge of their team members. Skill data can also be used to inform progression decisions, such as whether to upskill someone ready for a new project or role, or to promote them.” 

With workers not centrally located, are we seeing a massive increase in tracking applications managers can use to ensure employees are working efficiently? How do you balance useful oversight with what could be perceived as surveillance?

“A holistic approach that’s person-centred will always go down better than top-down surveillance. Looking at someone’s skill data will tell a manager if they are working well in their role or require further upskilling. Peer feedback (as well as manager feedback) can provide useful insights into someone’s strengths and weaknesses. As work-from-home continues, we will also see a shift from the traditional 9-5 ‘bums in seats’ measure of job success, to outputs. Instead of measuring someone’s performance on their ability to be at a desk 9-5, people will be measured on customer satisfaction, leads generated, deals closed, and so forth.”

How should businesses ensure the wellbeing of their remote workforces as we move into a post-Covid working landscape?

“A core facet of mental wellbeing is being able to do a job, feel that you are secure in that job, and that your skills are aligned with it. Leaders should not overlook the importance of upskilling on a worker’s wellbeing. 55% of workers say that a lack of confidence in their skills makes their job more stressful and 38% state that their mental health suffers.”

A flexible working future

A critical aspect for all businesses to appreciate is how managers will need to update their skills. Managing a centralised workforce has been commonplace for decades. The skills required to handle remote individuals will need to be learnt, as the skills needed are very different. Supporting the wellbeing is a central skill here to ensure workforces remain fit, healthy and productive.

Research from SocialChorus, the digital employee experience platform illustrates the importance of remote workers' professional management, as they concluded only 30% of HR and IT teams are working together to deliver a cohesive digital employee experience, impacting business productivity.

Worryingly, 88% of CIOs believe the purchasing decision for collaboration and communications tools rested with them, with only 11% stating it was a decision for their HR and IC (Internal Communications) colleagues. However, as the findings highlight, both have clashed on how to meet their organisation’s DEX (Digital Employee Experience) requirements and its employees feeling the effects of this fallout.

Nicole Alvino, co-founder and CSO at SocialChorus explained: “Drawn together out of necessity and connecting in a way that has never been seen before, showing their gratitude and respect to one another and where possible, helping one another on the days when the reality of this new, complicated way of living and working is just too much. We’re all human and it’s showing in the workplace. Companies are quite literally putting back the “human” back into Human Resources.”

Carl Harris, group director, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT also commented: “We have a greater appreciation and understanding for the value collaboration tools can add to the business – but with that comes an increased expectation on what further they can contribute to the business in the future. This will undoubtedly create accelerated innovation and healthy competition in the collaboration tool marketplace as solution providers seek to meet the increased needs of business. As a result, we can expect to see collaboration tool procurement featuring highly on the agenda of IT leaders.”

With Jo Caine, MD of specialist recruitment firm, Cathedral Appointments also telling Croner-i: Business Inform: “As we move to the next stage, there are a few things that employers will need to be wary of when considering a hybrid working model. First and foremost, business leaders need to be a lot more organised with their communication, especially if this wasn’t a strength pre-pandemic.”

Jo continued: “Consistent communications channels are incredibly important and having regular team meetings to update entire teams on key developments, as well as frequent one-to-ones, will ensure that information and updates don’t get lost along the way. A lack of clear communication could lead to employees feeling disenfranchised or undervalued and could lead to incorrect information and rumours circulating, which will create uncertainty.”

While a mass return to offices looks increasingly unlikely, a hybrid of office and remote working is coming into focus as a practical solution to the fallout from Covid-19. Businesses that want to remain sustainable and profitable will need to evolve and organise and manage their staff rapidly. There is no single solution that fits all. Business leaders should be formulating their strategic plans now to re-shape their operations and workforces in a post-Covid-19 landscape.