Which dwarf has to stay at home with the rule of six? Happily since Snow White and her seven dwarves are in the same family bubble, they should be OK.
The summer holidays are now a distant memory, the kids have gone back to school and the fortunate people with jobs to go back to have been relishing the opportunity to get properly stuck in to work with minimal outside distractions. This blog reflects on our collective ‘return to work’ after the summer recess and questions whether it will ever revert back to pre-covid patterns of working.
I personally saw the start of September as a key date to sharpen my focus, both in my work and personal life, after what seems like five months or so of ‘taking each day as it comes’. In my work life I was operating at around 70% productivity in the preceding five months to September, with home schooling being added to the mix amongst other distractions. Most of my business contacts with young children have relished the re-opening of schools so that they at least have some kid free time to be more efficient in their work life. September is when I consciously return the productivity dial back to pre-covid levels and enter the Autumn with a renewed vigour and spring (!) in my step.
The late August/early September news (pre last week’s announcement of tightening of restrictions) was dominated by the Government’s call to arms around getting back into our places of work, if safe to do so, and supporting businesses, particularly those that have been so reliant on worker trade. UK GDP fell by a record breaking 20.4% in Q2 (April to June 2020). In comparison, throughout the 2008 recession, GDP declined by no more than 2.1% in a single quarter. GDP in July 2020 grew by 6.6%, which is the third consecutive monthly increase, but this has covered off just over half of the lost output as a result of coronavirus. This is coupled with the recent news that 695,000 fewer people were on payroll in August 2020 compared to March 2020. This is only going to increase as the furlough scheme winds down and companies look to remove costs in order to remain viable.
Whilst it’s hard to ignore the ongoing covid doom and gloom, there do appear to be some green shoots of recovery. Scouring the job boards shows that there are still a reasonable amount of roles out there – the challenge is that there will be many more candidates chasing down fewer roles. We are helping candidates ensure that they stand out in that crowd. I have just had an email from two of my clients who are looking to recruit into their team and need our help, which is the greatest number of new assignments we have had in a long while.
This blog outlines four of my predictions in relation to changes at our work:
Working 9 to 5
Speaking to a variety of clients and candidates on a daily basis provides me with a great cross-sectional sample of how individuals (and businesses) are dealing with the pandemic. Individuals are generally a little sick of constantly being on Zoom/Teams and having to stare at the same four walls of their office/bedroom/kitchen/lounge. Quite a few people I speak to are now trying to break their lockdown routine by having a change of scenery once or twice a week. Most are itching to engage face-to-face with their colleagues in some capacity. There are a lot of benefits to home working but two downsides of it are the varying practicality of individuals being able to work from home and issues of isolation. I recall one candidate I spoke to admitting that they just didn’t have the discipline to work from home.
A lot of individuals are using the time to think about how work life will change post covid and if they have been used to a five day in the office pre-covid they are challenging the notion that they need to be in the office five days a week moving forward. Many have proven that they can do a more than adequate job working from home. I’d be interested to hear of any scientific studies that accurately quantify work productivity at home – anecdotal accounts suggest that home workers tend to start work earlier (as they don’t have the commute time to take into account) and are often working later as they are not subjected to that familiar signal at head office home time when co-workers start to leave. True, there are distractions at home (deliveries, laundry, cleaning) but there are also may non-productive distractions in an office environment.
Prediction 1: Finding balance
The days of the typical daily grind into an office are firmly over and will never fully return to previous patterns of commute. It is all about balance and I believe that many will settle on 2-3 days in the office and the rest of the time will be spent working from home (clearly this will depend on role/grade/location). As long as this change doesn’t materially affect their ability to do their job. This could also change the dynamic on where people live, relative to where they work; more on that in a future blog.
Businesses, in the main, are being exceptionally flexible and supportive of their remote teams in coping with the pandemic. There are some businesses that have closed their offices permanently and have no intention of getting a new office for the foreseeable future. Most businesses are slowly opening up their offices, albeit with significant reductions in occupancy levels to ensure they remain covid-compliant. These companies are often taking an individual level approach as everyone has a different perception of risk to the current pandemic. This approach is contrasted by other businesses who are expecting colleagues to come in. This is a scheduling/management challenge to have different groups of colleagues arriving on different days and starting/leaving at different times which has the potential to erode the face-to-face benefits of being in an office with colleagues.
Prediction 2: More flexibility
Businesses in general need to improve their flexibility about how, when and where their teams work. If they fail to show flexibility to the new worker demands then they risk losing talent once the employment market recovers.
I won’t be home for Christmas
Prediction 3: Christmas sales suffer
Apologies for switching back to full on doom and gloom mode but the way things are going in the UK I think Xmas will effectively be ‘cancelled’. Christmas is obviously a time for most families to come together but this year it will be very different. Families will not be coming together in the way that they have traditionally. I anticipate sales to be supressed at the grocers this Xmas (it will be interesting to see what the tone of their Xmas adverts will be this year) as the traditional seasonal uplift in spend from home family catering will be subdued. The upside is there is likely to be less food waste! Average spend per household is likely to be down as people tighten their belts in anticipation of continued financial and economic uncertainty. I also anticipate the cost of domestic short-term holiday lets to sky rocket as more people will want to celebrate Christmas within their family bubble in a different setting.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the impact these work changes have had on work attire. Over the last 5-10 years I have seen a general ‘softening’ of work attire from very formal to smart business casual. I can’t recall the last time I wore a suit and tie – it was probably for a wedding or a funeral. This increased working from home has created an entirely new set of work/home combinations. I have been relatively casual when working from home (particularly in the hot weather), opting for comfort over style. When I know I have video calls, depending on who with, I will tend to change into smarter attire. Workers attire has moved from smart formalwear to smart casual workwear (pre-covid), to a wardrobe of casual day wear that they supplement with an occasional smart casual outfit that comes out at video conference call times during the working day. I am yet to meet someone who has conducted a Zoom call with a full suit, shirt and tie on. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to quickly change when you only have to modify what you wear from the waist up.
We have seen the demise of TM Lewin as a result of covid-19 and the other formal wear specialists will certainly be assessing their existing portfolios and product ranging in order to survive. This will also have an impact on dry cleaners, as their volumes will reduce across the board as people tend to wear apparel that can be washed at home.
Prediction 4: Christmas best sellers
Christmas best sellers, particularly catering for middle aged professional males (such as myself), will be a nice selection of casual shirts and polo shirts (with colour coordinated face masks).
Time will tell how we all adapt and how much our lives change to make way for new and hopefully better working practises.
I’d love to hear what you think the impact of covid will be on our future working patterns. Have you already begun to reassess how you want to work next year?
Please let us know in the comments below and if you need some advice on how you can stand out from the crowd, get in touch on 07979 756257 or email email@example.com