On the 11th of March 2021 WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and twelve days later Boris Johnson announced that the UK was being put under its first national lockdown.
One year later and we are still dealing with the consequences of this deadly virus, heading into the final weeks of our third lockdown and successfully distributing millions of vaccinations in the UK and around the world.
There remains a lot of uncertainty around what the world will look like over the coming months and years with many people coming to terms with the fact that wearing face masks in enclosed public spaces and social distancing may be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
But one thing is for certain, the way we work has been hugely affected and many businesses have made permanent changes as a direct result of the pandemic.
The Rise of Working from Home
One of the first and long-lasting affects of the pandemic from the moment we went into our first national lockdown has been working from home.
Although this was already a popular way of working in many companies, and a growing trend, all but essential workers were forced to work from home where possible during the three-month lockdown and many have not yet returned to their place of work since.
A lot of businesses who were apprehensive about allowing their employees to work from home, whether it was through fear of them being unproductive or because employers felt their workers worked best in the office, have seen first-hand that remote working can be successful.
It even has its benefits over working in a communal space too.
Many employees find that they are more productive when working from home because they don’t have the constant distraction of office chatter and they don’t have an early morning commute that can often make them feel tired and stressed by the time they step foot into their place of work.
Furthermore, businesses who have now witnessed the advantages of working from home for the first time are considering closing their place of work completely to save money.
The cost of renting an office space in a city centre doesn’t look attractive when over half of your employees can work from home, so we are likely to see a move towards work hub spaces and hotdesking.
However, there are two sides to the coin and although a recent report by Microsoft Surface revealed that 56% of people feel happier now that they are working from home, two-thirds of workers also feel less connected to their colleagues and more pressure to be available at all times of the day.
Therefore, the happy medium for a lot of business moving forward will be a hybrid of homeworking and office working.
When you do start to reopen your place of work, you need to ensure that you have completed a thorough COVID Risk Assessment before your employees can return.
We can conduct this for you by sending out one of our qualified Health and Safety Consultants to walk-through the premises and provide a professional risk assessment and method statement highlighting all covid associated hazards and the measures you need to put in place to control this risk. Learn more about this service here
The Ability to Work Flexible Hours
Almost as a direct result of working from home, there has been a rise in flexible working hour request amongst UK employees.
Without the need to spend an hour or so commuting to work in the morning and another hour going home in the evening, employees gain that time back and many are keen to spend it working so that they can either start earlier and finish earlier or start later and finish later. The traditional 9-5 is slowly disappearing.
The request for flexible hours has also been a must for working parents who suddenly had to look after/teach their children at home whilst juggling their full-time job.
This left many mothers and fathers in a situation where they couldn’t be sat at a desk for their normal working hours because they needed to spend some of that time making their children lunch or checking in on their at-home schooling.
One resolution has been for parents to split their working hours throughout the day to fit with their children’s schedule. This could mean working only a couple of hours in the morning and in the afternoon then completing the remaining three or so hours in the evening once the kids are in bed.
Without the need to stick to traditional hours because workers are based in a place of work or setting that may open or close at a certain time, it has enabled them to build their schedule around their home lives creating a much better work/life balance.
Virtual Meetings Means A Wider Network
Remote working has forced us all to become more self-motivated and self-sufficient, but it has also opened a lot of doors for both employers and employees.
Social distancing rules have meant that we cannot conduct face-to-face meetings with clients or employees which has seen a huge spike in the use of virtual meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and Zoom.
For a lot of businesses this has been the first time they’ve used these platforms to conduct important meetings, from job interviews to disciplinaries, as it was not seen as the most effective way to get the work done; however, this opinion has changed for most and virtual meetings are now the new normal.
This means that businesses have access to a wider network as they are no longer limiting themselves because they need to meet with certain people/companies in person.
For example, a business that outsources support with their marketing through an agency might only look to work with agencies that are local to their premises so that it’s easy to meet with them on a regular basis; with the rise in virtual meetings, they could now open up their search and work with an agency further afield.
This can also be true when hiring staff. There is no longer a need to only hire employees that can commute to and from the business premises every day if your workplace is encouraging its workforce to work from home.
This means that when you are recruiting you can open the search up to a much larger audience as there is no location restrictions – a Birmingham-based company can employ people from Manchester and London and vice versa.
It’s great for businesses as their talent pool will be much bigger and it’s a plus for employees too as they have a broader scope of locations in which they can apply for work.
Workplaces Preparing for the Unexpected
The COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise and no business was prepared for what happened in March 2021.
We spend so much of our time assessing workplace risks that have a high probability such as falls and fires (and this is important!) but often overlook those that seem highly unlikely to happen.
A pandemic is not something that most companies prepare for so when it did occur, they were thrown into a whirlwind, unsure of what steps to take to protect their employees and their business.
Many workplaces have now put a Pandemic Policy in place and are far more aware of the risks and the actions that must be taken to control the risk.
It has also encouraged many employers to assess their workplace preparedness when it comes to any type of emergency that could occur, even those with the smallest probabilities such as natural disasters and terror attacks.
This heightened awareness and desire to ‘prepare for the unexpected’ at work has made a lot of businesses far safer which can only be a good thing.
If you have any queries about anything we have touched on this blog, such as questions about manging homeworkers or writing a pandemic policy, then speak to one of our HR or Health and Safety experts today on 0845 2626 260