Half of UK employers are planning to stagger return to work based on employees’ own health risks related to COVID-19, a new survey has found.
The survey from recruiter Robert Walkers also found that 46% of businesses will be staggering employees return depending on how critical their role is to the business.
The next most popular strategy is the creation of smaller workgroups (40%), followed by changing work hours (34%), a voluntary return scheme (33%), and splitting shifts (28%).
Over a quarter (28%) of businesses have stated that they will base their return-to-work strategy on local infection rates.
A third of companies have admitted to not yet considering what their return to work strategy may be.
“What the research highlights is that despite the success of home working, employers are keen to start encouraging their staff back into the workplace and are happy to take necessary steps and put procedures in place to help enable this,” said Lucy Bisset, Director at Robert Walters.
“A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of homelife, and a reinforcement of company values.
“What employers need to do is merge the perks of office-life with what people have been enjoying about working from home; for example – flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere, and avoidance of busy commute times.”
The new age of remote working
The survey found that 87% of employees would like more opportunities to work from home post-return, with 21% stating that they would like to work from home permanently.
Whilst 83% of firms have stated that the experience of COVID-19 will encourage business heads to have employees to work from home more often, they also cite concerns over employee productivity (64%), senior leadership preferring traditional ways of working (57%), and the nature of the business e.g. face-to-face sales (36%), as the key barriers to achieving this.
Cost saving at the core
Implementing headcount freezes (50%), and utilising government unemployment schemes (43%) were some of the most popular instant measures companies took in response to the virus.
Now as workplaces are able to re-open it seems that cost saving remains at the core of business strategy – with a reduction in office space (44%), and a reduction in travel budgets by switching to virtual meetings (46%) being the key tactics considered by companies.
“It is too early to tell whether cost saving tactics will result in a reduction in salaries or bonuses, but any freeze of the sort will likely be compensated by the increase in softer benefits such as flexi-hours, wellbeing perks, and remote working,” said Mr Bisset.
When it comes to recruitment, firms have already switched up their processes to be more cost and time efficient with 57% looking to continue with virtual interviews, 46% with online assessments, and 56% with remote onboarding.
Three quarters of employers admit that their senior team have not been equipped to manage teams remotely, and will need new training to be able to adapt to new ways of working including being more empathetic to work-life balance (74%), focussing on outcomes rather than work hours (65%), improving on virtual communication (57%), a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing (52%), and creating a more collaborative environment (36%).
It seems it is not just business heads who are anticipating changes to the future workplace, with employees expecting more flexibility to work from home (89%), investment in better technology (52%), a revised focus on wellbeing (32%), changes to the office layout (30%), more autonomy (29%), changes to work hours (18%), faster decision making (16%), and changes to performance measures (12%).
“It can be daunting for companies who have been going through a difficult period to consider spending money on their physical workspace, technical infrastructure or general operations,” Mr Bisset.
“However, those who have been through previous periods of economic turbulence will know that investment at the early stages is crucial to remaining competitive and retaining good staff.
“We’d advise all employers to undergo a period of consultation with their staff to ascertain what they believe the future of their workplace and industry is going to be.”