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Employees Becoming ‘Emotionally Remote’ During Coronavirus

More than half (52%) of UK employees have said that the boundaries between their work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred due to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to insurance provider Aviva’s new Embracing the Age of Ambiguity report, employees said they are becoming emotionally remote whilst working from home. 

Just 15% agreed that their employer is trying hard to understand what motivates them, and a quarter (26%) said their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing. 

Speaking to HR magazine, Paul Wilson, chief marketing officer at Aviva UK Life, Savings and Retirement said that employees’ needs and expectations have evolved while remote working. 

He said: “Our evidence suggests that employees are increasingly ‘plodding’ through work. 

“They seek work-life balance, control over career progression and help with wellbeing and retirement planning. Understanding employee motivations is a key opportunity for HR teams to strengthen engagement and combat the sense of ‘employee drift’ in the workplace.” 

The majority (73%) of employees surveyed said where they work hasn’t changed since the start of the March lockdown. This has reportedly had an impact on employee mental health. 

Two in five (43%) employees described their wellbeing as being less than good, and more than a third (34%) said they did carry on working even when they felt unwell. 

Heightened anxiety has also led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days over a three-month period (67% in February vs. 84% in August). 

While the report suggested responsibility is on employers to ensure they provide the right environment for employee work-life balance and wellbeing to thrive, it stated it is “a two-way street” and employees need to play their part too. 

Fifty-four per cent of UK employees said that their employer has worked hard to create a sense of ‘company togetherness’. They are predominantly doing this by embracing an open dialogue and communicating future working arrangements, according to 60% of employees. 

In the report, Laura Stewart Smith, workplace savings manager at Aviva said: “A new ‘psychological contract’ will only work if it’s based on the same unambiguous outcome – better mental health and financial and physical wellbeing – and each party should play their respective roles to uphold this.” 

In response to the report’s findings, Aviva made a series of recommendations it believes will help employers reset relationships with employees. 

It advised that employers should personalise mental health and wellbeing support; maintain a sense of purpose, clarity and autonomy in the workplace; prepare workers for fuller working lives and the transition from work to retirement and create more targeted interventions by understanding personality types.

By Emma Greedy HRMagazine

One in Five Freelancers Could Quit Self-employment

By: Rachel Miller

After two decades of growth in UK self-employment, a new study by the London School of Economics has found that one in five freelancers consider it likely that they’ll leave self-employment as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The research, undertaken by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (LSE), found that the easing of pandemic restrictions over the summer only had a marginal effect on the self-employed, with 58% saying they had less work than usual in August 2020.

The LSE report – COVID-19 and the Self-Employed: Six Months into the Crisis – has found that even after England’s first lockdown lifted, 32% of self-employed workers had fewer than 10 hours of work a week in August.

Self-employed workers who operate through digital apps in the gig economy have had more work, according to the LSE report. However, 78% of these workers – including parcel delivery workers and private hire drivers – said they felt their health was at risk while working.

Other key findings include:

  • 28% of respondents had applied for a second grant under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS);
  • Of those who had not applied for either the first or second rounds of the SEISS grant, 38% were not sure of their eligibility;
  • A third of respondents think normal activity will not resume until after February 2021;
  • One in ten think it will never resume.

Of most concern is that 20% of freelancers polled said they “consider it likely” that they’ll leave self-employment as a result of the crisis – this rises to 59% among those aged under 25. The newly self-employed are more than twice as likely to report having trouble with basic expenses when compared to other self-employed workers (52% versus 24%).

Stephen Machin, co-author and CEP director, said:

“While the growth in self-employment has been one of the key trends in the labour market in the past two decades, there are now early signals that this trend could be set to reverse.

“By the summer, there had already been a sharp fall in the number of self-employed workers – this may be primarily due to the lockdown, but for some it will be due to realising the risks of self-employment. The COVID-19 crisis has vividly illustrated the social insurance available to different types of workers, with many experiencing the basic safety net of Universal Credit for the first time.”

According to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), “glaring gaps in support” are leading to “long-term, avoidable decline” in the self-employment sector.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of self-employed workers in the UK has already fallen to 4.53 million, down from 5.1 million at the end of 2019.

Derek Cribb, IPSE ceo, said:

“After the 2008 financial crisis, it was rising self-employed numbers that kept unemployment comparatively low – as uncertain employers looked for more flexible expertise instead of permanent employees. Now, this does not appear to be happening and the self-employed sector is in precipitous decline. Some self-employed are finding their way into full-time roles, but many others are joining the record flow into unemployment.

“Government must work quickly to stem this flow by urgently getting support to the left-behind self-employed groups. Extending support would be a cost now, yes, but it would be a temporary cost during the pandemic, to hold back an even worse unemployment problem later.”

Written by Rachel Miller.

FBS Small Business Index

The latest FSB Small Business Index has found that times are tougher than ever for small firms after two difficult years.

The survey of 1,500 UK small firms, conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), finds that SME confidence has been in negative territory for nine consecutive quarters – since July 2018. It comes as small business revenue growth hits an all-time low and staff lay-offs hit an all-time high.

The Q3 SBI confidence figure stands at -32.6, down 28 points on last quarter. Only a third (34%) of those surveyed at the end of last month expect their performance to improve over the coming three months. The significant majority (66%) expect performance to worsen.

The findings also show that a record one in four (25%) small firms reduced headcounts last quarter. An even higher proportion (29%) expect to make redundancies over the coming three months; 12% say they expect to let at least a quarter of their staff go.

COVID-related disruption has caused revenue growth to fall to its lowest recorded ebb, with more than half (56%) of those surveyed reporting a drop. A similar share (50%) expect revenues to fall next quarter.

The FSB is warning that any potential economic recovery is stalling ahead of a difficult trading period in the run-up to Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period. More than half of exporters polled say international sales have fallen over the past three months.

Although the FSB has welcomed the chancellor’s improvements to the current business and job support schemes, it is now calling for new measures, including:

  • Support for those that have received no income support to date;
  • A reduction in the cost of hiring new staff;
  • Lessening the burden of business rates;
  • Providing more resources for those looking to start a business for the first time.

“We must not forget that small firms were already under the cosh thanks to political uncertainty, rising costs and creaking infrastructure well before the Spring,” said Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman.

“The chancellor made some very welcome adjustments to support measures last week … However, too many are still without the help they need to weather current disruption – not least company directors, the newly self-employed, those without premises and those further down supply chains in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. An ambitious rescue package for these groups is urgently needed.

“If we want small business owners to create jobs, we have to bring down the costs of employment, starting with employer national insurance contributions. If we want them to invest, innovate and expand, we have to alleviate the strain of wider government-imposed overheads, including those stemming from an outdated business rates system which continues to stifle too many community businesses all over the country.”

Written by Rachel Miller.

Covid Will Change Future of Work and Skills Say Business Leaders

By The Careers and Enterprise Company

#FutureofWork Survey – Working from home is here to stay: Skills such as communication, self-motivation and reliability will now be essential.

Britain’s business leaders believe the workplace transformations brought on by Covid-19 will now become a permanent feature of the way we work and change demand for skills, according to new research released today.

The research indicates that business leaders believe the profound impact the pandemic has had on work-life will have lasting effects. Moves towards fewer people in offices, more home and virtual working are set to stay.

More than three-quarters of business leaders (77%) agree that fewer people in the workplace and office and more working from home will now become a permanent feature of working life.

More than four in five (83%) agree that on-line and virtual working will now remain a significant feature of the way we work.

The poll of 250 medium & large business leaders by Savanta ComRes for the Careers & Enterprise Company comes as NatWest boss Alison Rose recently predicted a hybrid flexible future combining home and office working as the new normal, with many businesses announcing they will continue to maintain a mix of home and office working.

The latest Office for National Statistics retail numbers show online now accounting for a record £3 out of every £10 spent, with a 47 per cent surge in online and mail-order sales since February.

Such underlying forces, accelerated by the pandemic lockdown, are shifting thinking in Britain’s boardrooms about what the future of work looks like and shaping views on the skills needed to succeed.

The vast majority of business leaders agree that skills such as communication, self-motivation and the reliability to work remotely are now essential (83%) and that demand for digital and IT skills will increase due to the rise in online and virtual working (85%).

In what is a challenging and changing jobs market, business leaders recognise the need to support young people looking for jobs. Over three quarters say they have a responsibility to ensure those leaving school in the current environment do not become a lost generation (77%), and that there is now an increased need for employers to support young people entering the world of work (76%).

Business leaders believe certain key skills and qualities will be vital in improving young people’s job prospects.

They highlight skills needs driven by a changing workplace shaped by lockdown. More than three in five (63%) say self-motivation, preparedness and the skills to work remotely will be very important and nearly three in five (59%) say digital and IT skills will be very important.

Three in five (60%) say essential employability skills such as presenting, problem solving, creativity and teamwork are very important – 58 per cent say literacy and numeracy are very important.

New ways of working create new challenges, with nearly three in ten (29%) believing the new remote working environment creates barriers to induction, training and learning the business culture and values, which could constrain the recruitment of school leavers.

John Yarham, Interim CEO of The Careers & Enterprise Company said:

The impact of the pandemic has forced business to adapt and adjust at pace. It has also accelerated many underlying changes in the economy and the way we work.

These changes in the nature and culture of the workplace are in turn shaping the skills and qualities employers look for in young people.

In such a landscape, careers education is critical in helping young people respond to change and matching their aspirations and ambitions with the opportunities in the jobs market.

The relationships and connections we create between schools, colleges and employers build a bridge between the worlds of education and employment and support young people in making informed choices about the next steps on their career journey.

The survey in numbers:

What impact do business leaders think the Covid-19 crisis will have on business?

  • 85% agree that online and virtual working will increase demand for digital and IT skills.
  • 83% agree that communication, self-motivation and reliability to work remotely will now be essential.
  • 83% agree that online and virtual working will remain a significant feature of the way they work.
  • 77% agree that fewer people in the workplace or office and more working from home will now become a permanent feature of working life.

How important do business leaders think the following qualities and skills are in improving young people’s employment prospects in the post-Covid jobs market?

  • 93% say essential employability skills such as listening, presenting, problem solving, creativity, leadership and teamwork are important – 60% say very important
  • 93% say literacy and numeracy are important – 58% say very important
  • 92% say self-motivation, preparedness and skills to work remotely are important – 63% say very important
  • 92% say digital and IT skills are important – 59% say very important
  • 89% say strong academic results and qualifications are important – 55% say very important
  • 89% say wider character behaviours like resilience and adaptability are important – 46% say very important
  • 86% say technical and vocational education qualifications are important – 41% say very important
  • 84% say relevant work experience is important – 46% very important 

Methodology: The Savanta ComRes poll for the Careers & Enterprise Company interviewed 251 business leaders from medium & large companies (i.e. with 250 employees or more) in the UK online between 26 June and 1 July 2020. 28% of business leaders interviewed were c-suite (MD, CEO, CFO), 23% director, 49% senior management. 25% of organisations employed 250-499 employees, 31% employed 500-1000 employees and 44% more than 1,000 employees. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables are available on the Savanta ComRes website.

Creating the Office of the Future
August 14, 2020
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By Deniz CaglarEdward Faccio, and Erika Ryback

The corporate office is on the brink of a major renovation. The lockdowns that began in mid-March in response to the novel coronavirus created an extraordinary migration as employees across the country began working at home.

People patched together ways to keep going when the lights went off in office buildings, and, for the most part, it has worked: In the June 2020 PwC US Remote Work Survey, three out of four employers called work from home (WFH) a success.

It’s no surprise, then, to find widespread interest in maintaining some form of WFH once the pandemic recedes. Everybody benefits. Employees avoid lengthy commutes and spend more time with their family. Employers have access to talent regardless of location, improve resiliency through a distributed workforce, and reduce expenses by optimizing their real estate footprint. Even the environment gets a break thanks to fewer people commuting, less business travel, and less heating and cooling of office space. The Remote Work Survey shows that 73 percent of employees would like to work remotely at least two days a week, even once COVID-19 is no longer a concern. Similarly, 55 percent of executives are prepared to expand options for employees to work outside the office.

This turnabout in perspectives is striking. The prevailing view just a few months ago held up the office as a strategic asset to appeal to a new generation of workers located in urban areas, with open-space designs and room to play. Today, skeptical executives who believed employees could not be productive away from the office have come around, or at least have softened their views, and see that working from home can be effective. Now many large companies across industries have announced their intent to let employees work from home at least part of the time going forward.

As a flexible WFH model appears likely to become the norm, the role of the corporate office and its physical footprint are coming under scrutiny. Right now, almost all office workers are working remotely. Will we see the same level of collaboration and productivity when some are in the office and others at home? We’re all leveraging relationships that we have built in the office through the years; how do we build new networks when veteran employees leave and new employees are hired?

The pandemic has shown that the real prize in remote work is not reducing real estate costs — it’s fostering a stronger sense of resiliency. In the future, remote work will also allow greater access to a diverse pool of talent, regardless of where it is located. Our surveys show a small percentage of employees prefer to work remotely all the time, so it’s important to assess what flexibility means for them. Meanwhile, other employees will want to socialize with team members and feel that they are part of the organization. How many people will need a place to collaborate with colleagues in person, and how often?

The answers to these questions will determine both the success of a business and the extent of the physical remodeling that companies will need to do. As leaders think about the role of their corporate offices and how and where their employees work once coronavirus concerns recede — whether it is this year or further in the future — they must clearly define the reasons for employees to return to the office.

Four actions to transition to the office of the future

No solution works for every company. Executives will need to figure out their own path, given the scale of potential changes. But these four steps will help.

1. Redefine the role of the office

Start by defining the purpose of the office in your organization. Go through a careful evaluation of what happens in your spaces. What is valuable enough to keep your people coming in? A significant number of companies outside the manufacturing sector have shown they can work from home effectively, so pinpoint the reasons people need to come back to the office. Indeed, the office may be evolving from a default location where employees go to get their work done to a destination employees visit for specific purposes.

Consider the work that people do. We call this exercise the Six Cs. Each C can be mapped to give employers an idea of physical and productivity space needs.

Creating work products: Analyzing data, doing research, processing orders, and writing documents. These “heads-down” tasks are often performed individually, and largely can be done independent of an office location as long as the employee does not require specific equipment or physical documents tied to the office.

Collaborating: Brainstorming ideas, developing plans, and solving problems with colleagues. Collaborating with colleagues was one of the top reasons many employees went to the office, according to PwC’s Remote Work Survey. Working from home during the pandemic has highlighted forms of collaboration that can still be effective when participants are not together in person. When does being “in person” make a measurable difference?

Communicating: Sharing information, giving status updates, asking for or providing feedback, and answering or following up with clients. Many communications can (and now do) take place over video, email, chat apps, or the phone. Again, when does communicating “in person” make a difference?

Coaching: Developing employees and providing feedback. Prior to the pandemic, coaching was often done face-to-face. However, because it’s largely a one-on-one exercise, most coaching could be virtual.

Committing: Making decisions and committing to actions. Commitments are often determined in formal settings, such as steering committee meetings, and sometimes in discussions among peers or between a manager and an employee. How and when do commitments happen in a given organization?

Community building, or corporate culture: Forming relationships through daily interactions. Some of these interactions purely involve work, but not all. Social activities help colleagues get to know one another as individuals and form relationships that benefit the work environment.

Although the last several months have shown that almost all of these activities can happen virtually at least some of the time, in the longer term, a portion of them will also take place in the office. So how will the split evolve? Once leaders have mapped what their workforces do, how much time they take to do it, and where being physically present adds value and boosts results, they can plan not only the size but the layout of their offices.

The creation of work products, as defined above, can largely move away from the office — and so can communicating, via virtual conference calls or team updates. Much of coaching can be handled virtually, too. Collaborating, committing, and community building, however, are team engagements at their core. Although much of that engagement can be virtual, in-person engagement is most valuable for these activities.

2. Define work-from-home guidelines

Our Remote Work Survey anticipates a flexible WFH model in which employees work in the office a few days per week once COVID-19 is no longer a concern. This generality, however, will apply to employees differently depending on their specific roles, with tailored approaches for greater workweek flexibility. When planning, it can help to create specific employee personas and map their activities, requirements, and propensities for home or office working based on the Six Cs.

Here we’ve divided these employees into four groups: collaborators, connectors, residents, and rovers, and have estimated the target time they would spend in an office.

Collaborators work in teams, but not necessarily in an office space. Think of research scientists, project managers, engineers, or designers. They may need powerful computers or access to specific equipment. And there are times when being together in person is more productive, such as a creative visioning session. Yet, as routine meetings and status checkups increasingly take place virtually, their need for time on premises could decrease significantly.

Connectors are typically the corporate support staff, including IT developers, marketing and public relations professionals, accountants, and human resource specialists. They have varying working patterns and can work in multiple areas within a company location. They work at their desks and in conference rooms. Target times on premises could decline by as much as two-thirds with enhanced remote working tools.

Residents are the traders, engineers, loan processors, and designers who need specific equipment, customized terminals, or powerful computers in the office to do their job. They work alone frequently but may require a specific space and specific tools. Mobility for this group will be more limited.

Rovers — the client-side consultants or sales executives — also work alone frequently, but they can work anywhere. Reducing expectations for their need for office time to as little as 10 percent is not unreasonable — that would mean two days a month in the office. This is likely to have been close to normal for some rovers even before COVID-19.

3. Remodel the office

According to the analysis above, the office of the future is primarily a space for collaboration and community building, though some tasks do require individual work spaces. Few floor plans are ready for this focus now, and given the pandemic hiatus, the remodeling that is currently going on is working in the other direction: Executives at many companies are retrofitting their offices with a “safety first” mind-set, putting up social-distancing barriers to shield people from one another and reducing the office capacity to half or even less of what it was before the pandemic.

For the office to serve its new and more specific future purpose of enabling collaboration and community building, a different kind of major remodeling is ahead. We anticipate that assigned offices and desks, that is, spaces reserved for individual work, will shrink significantly and be converted into unassigned, hotel-type seating arrangements with less square footage per seat than is the case today. In return, space for socializing and collaborating will increase. Huddle rooms will prompt ad hoc collaboration of two to four people; larger conference rooms will host decision-making meetings; hubs will enable project teams to work together. These collaboration spaces will be equipped with tools and technology to enhance the experience. For example, team hub rooms will be configured with “white walls” for brainstorming and powerful videoconferencing technology for seamlessly patching in remote team members.

Once a business maps its groups, it will have a better sense of what is needed in a physical office. Suppose your rovers need to be in the office 10 percent of their time or one day every two weeks: If you have 1,000 rovers, that translates into 100 seats. Now factor in density, or the total space needed for a group. Different groups will use the office space differently and thus will need different types of spaces. Many companies will need significant renovation and an investment in hoteling and basic space reservation systems, as well as phone routing systems.

One final consideration: As a result of the pandemic, some companies are questioning whether to diversify from a single, large office in a major urban center to a hub-and-spoke model, with one or two offices in urban locations and a handful of outposts in the suburbs. The outposts may shorten commutes for suburban workers while still enabling collaboration and enhancing business continuity. In addition to owning or leasing dedicated offices, companies may consider coworking spaces in order to increase flexibility and access for their much more mobile workers.

4. Update your ways of working

Companies that want to make an office-wide shift to flexible remote work will fail if they do not define how ways of working will change in this new model. Pre-pandemic, policies, processes, and the implicit and routine ways of working were defined with an assumption that most of the workers were in the office most of the time. Now that a large number of corporate employees are working from home, those assumptions have already gone out the window, and legacy ways of working have become insufficient or even obsolete.

Office-centric ways of working institutionalized how employees engaged with each other, and collaboration and innovation would often occur organically in hallways or over coffee. (Bell Labs figured that out in the 1950s and designed corridors specifically to let people bump into one another.) Only a third of U.S. workers in PwC’s June 2020 Workforce Pulse Survey rated the tools and resources for collaboration and communication in their organization as “very effective.”

Yet the flexible work arrangements everyone has been using to cope with the pandemic are redefining these norms. As a result, you will need to deliberately establish ways of working that allow for serendipity but don’t risk teams settling into recently improvised ways of working that can create confusion and frustration. These new ways of working benefit the employees not only in the short term but also in the longer term as they develop new skills and enhance their own employability. To define these new ways of working, the following elements are needed.

Standards and guidelines. Establish the parameters of work for regular activities. Set standards for when people are available and how key performance indicators are reported and measured. Outline what a successful meeting looks like and how action points are allocated and reported.

Routines. Remote working requires specific routines, depending on what people do. Some teams need daily huddles, others weekly catch-ups. Social events can also be programmed.

Tools and technology. The infrastructure of remote collaboration was cobbled together for the pandemic. Some companies had protocols in place and robust file-sharing capabilities. Others did not. These technologies will now have to be standard, secure, and straightforward to use.

Risk and controls. Data protection is always top of mind, but in a remote working environment, the cracks are all too evident. If the company email system fails or a file transfer system crashes, work-arounds using personal email accounts can severely compromise corporate data. And considering how many people are accessing systems and trying hard to do their jobs, keeping tabs on these activities is not easy. Companies are scrambling to keep up. Given that cybersecurity and data protection will remain a top priority, getting this right now should be an urgent concern.

For example, consider how a manager coaches an employee in a mobile world. The manager will need new standards and guidelines that outline what good coaching and feedback look like. He or she may define new routines that call for daily check-ins and feedback on the quality of the work product; monthly 30-minute one-on-ones to focus on the employee’s performance and career development; and a midyear check-in for a more comprehensive progress review.

The office and ways of working as we have known them are gone. In their place, we have a rare opportunity to redesign where and how we will work. The view will be worth the climb: On the other side, we can provide employees with better experiences and help them acquire skills they can take with them through their career. We can reconfigure our spaces to ensure collaboration, innovation, and productivity, and reduce operating expenses. We can build in more diversity and inclusion and increase environmental sustainability. The lead time is long — it could be two to three years — to plan for the new footprint, find new sites, remodel the offices for the company’s needs, and transition. So the time to start planning is now. Let the remodeling begin.

Author Profiles:
  • Deniz Caglar is an advisor to executives on strategic cost and organizational transformation for Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business. Based in Chicago, he is a principal with PwC US. He is a leader in the PwC US organization strategy practice and coauthor, with Vinay Couto and John Plansky, of Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal.
  • Edward Faccio advises organizations on corporate real estate strategy and transformation, and helps leadership teams align their business operations with new ways of working. Based in New York, he is a partner with PwC US.
  • Erika Ryback advises organizations on corporate real estate strategy and transformation. She works with businesses to execute real estate strategies using enabling technology. Based in New York, she is a director with PwC US.
  • Also contributing were Bhushan Sethi, a principal with PwC US and joint global leader of PwC’s people and organization practice; Vinay Couto, a principal with PwC US and leading practitioner in people and organization strategy; PwC US director Sid Bhatia of the Workforce of the Future team; Ashish Jain and Augusto Giacoman, both principals with PwC US; and PwC’s US real estate practice leader Byron Carlock.
Which Soft Skills are Important in 2020?

Article by Australian Careers Service.

With competition in the workforce fiercer than ever, the importance of softs skills has never been higher. In contrast to a formal qualification, soft skills — things you don’t typically learn at uni — can be what sets a person apart in the workplace.

Soft skills are considered to have more nuance, take longer to develop and are harder to acquire, making the key for customer or client retention. But which soft skills are the most important? A good place to start is to look at what others are learning.

Udemy hosts over 150,000 courses hosted by experts that can be taken anywhere, any time. A recent report looked at consumption of their courses between 2016 and 2019, to determine the top skills that have had the highest rank change. 

Along with the skills listed below, the report also includes storytelling, culture awareness, critical thinking, leadership and emotional intelligence in the top 10 soft skills. 

Growth Mindset 

A growth mindset promotes the idea that we can get better at or improve our ability in anything we put the effort into. Harvard Business Review says that ‘individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.’  

A growth mindset goes hand-in-hand with ambitious goal setting and achievement, so it’s no surprise that it’s the number one soft skill for career progression in all industries and at all levels. Udemy currently has over 4,00 courses in the topic! 

Creativity 

What was once considered an innate skill of those in artistic professions, creativity has shown to be a key factor in all industries. The world needs innovative leaders with new ideas, and creativity is a crucial element in problem-solving. Creativity courses specialise in areas like innovation and business, idea generation, coding, lateral thinking and harnessing your imagination. 

Focus Mastery 

In a world full of distractions and technology at our fingertips, staying focused has never been more of a challenge — but while many of us are now working from home, it’s never been more important. Courses are available to help power through your to-do list and increase your productivity. 

Innovation 

As many businesses and individuals need to adapt their products and business models, there is an increasing need for innovation. According to Forbes, ‘innovation isn’t solely represented by new devices, ideas or methods, but also by the process of uncovering new ways to do things’. You can take courses in innovation that tie in with themes such as creativity, design thinking and leadership. 

Communication 

Encompassing many elements of work life, communication is a skill that can refer to public speaking, emails, one-to-one discussions, meetings and presentations. Good communication can build trust, propel projects forward and improve morale. At a management level, it’s essential for delegation, conflict resolution, and project management in general. You can improve your communication skills to improve your assertiveness, sharpen your business acumen or increase your confidence. 

Redundancy: Seven Questions Employers Should Ask Themselves

By Richard Thomas Employment Law Partner Capital Law 

What are your legal requirements as an employer when making redundancies?

Serious sad woman in sweater carrying cardboard box full of stuff and leaving office after dismissal

In the volatile market situation we find ourselves in at present, redundancies may be unavoidable for some organisations, but there are certain legal obligations that need to be fulfilled when employers take this route. Here, we’ll look at seven key aspects employers should consider before embarking on this.

1. Is redundancy a ‘legally straightforward’ way of dismissing employees?

Not really. There are plenty of variables that can easily complicate and delay a redundancy process. These include an employee’s length of service, the number of employees at risk, the involvement of a trade union, the number of sites affected, and the timescales involved. Add to these the logistics of trying to arrange the consultation process mid-pandemic, and it can quickly become difficult.

2. What is required before I can start a redundancy process?

The key condition is that a ‘genuine redundancy’ situation must be proven. In the current context, it would be relatively easy for many businesses to show that they find themselves in such a situation.

There is no one-size-fits-all test, but the situation must fall within one or more of the following categories: a business closure (the business shuts altogether); a workplace closure (the business is partly shut/ is relocated); or a reduction of workforce (the business no longer has sufficient work for some or all its staff).

As well as the impact of Covid-19, other scenarios could include a reduction in demand and/or customers, automating systems and streamlining staff.

3. How should I choose the employees to be made redundant?

At the outset, the business should ‘identify the ‘pool’ – i.e. the group of employees from which it will choose those who are to be made redundant.

When choosing those who are to be made redundant, fair and objective selection criteria should be used. Common examples can include length of service; disciplinary history; performance, skills, qualifications, experience and appraisals.

Selection criteria should not be based on unlawful/unfair grounds, such as an employee’s age, sex or race (discriminatory factors), absence for family, maternity, or disability related reasons, a role as a trade union or employee representative, or whistleblowing.

There is usually no requirement to consider any selection criteria if all employees are being made redundant, or if there is a pool of one.

4. Do I need to consider any alternatives to compulsory redundancy?

One option to consider at the outset is to offer voluntary redundancy. This might reduce the number of employees in the process, or prevent it happening altogether.

Before and during any meaningful process, you should consider other ways in which compulsory redundancies could be avoided, or at least reduced. This might include:

  • Identifying and offering alternative employment.
  • Recruitment freezes.
  • Reviewing and ending contractor arrangements.
  • Reducing overtime.
  • Allowing sabbaticals, flexible or reduced working, career breaks etc.
  • Cutting bonuses and other benefit schemes.
  • Early retirement.

If an employee has two years’ service or more, employers will be under a legal obligation to consider alternatives like the above, or otherwise be faced with the risk of a claim for unfair dismissal.

Employees and their representatives may also have their own suggestions on how to avoid a redundancy situation, which should come to light during the consultation process.

5. Do I need to think about collective consultation?

Quite possibly. In addition to individual consultation, if the number of proposed redundancies will be 20 or more within a period of 90 days at a single establishment, this will trigger collective consultation requirements. These include:

  • Notifying the Redundancy Payments Service before any consultation starts.
  • Consulting with trade union/elected employee representatives, and providing them with certain prescribed information.
  • An obligatory freeze on any redundancies taking effect for a 30-day period for 20 to 99 redundancies, or 45 days for 100 or more redundancies in 90 days.

Failing to follow these rules can prove costly. An employment tribunal can award up to 90 days’ uncapped pay per affected employee where an employer has breached its obligations.

If fewer than 20 redundancies are proposed, there are no strict collective consultation rules to follow, but it is always best practice to fully consult employees (and their representatives if applicable) throughout the process.

6. How do I consult during the pandemic?

If businesses remain open and staffed, and it is possible to do so, the traditional way of consulting face-to-face and electing representatives (within social distancing guidelines) may still be a viable option.

For many businesses, however, the alternative virtual route may be best. Employers can, just as efficiently, inform and consult employees through Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype etc. Provided that the legal requirements are met, conducting the process remotely should not prove to be an obstacle for employers.

Similarly, employers who have been required to arrange elections of employee representatives (which should be done by secret ballot) have found online tools such as Doopoll and SurveyMonkey useful for gathering nominations, while still protecting anonymity.

7. What will I need to pay redundant employees?

If an employee has two years’ continuous service or more, they will normally be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment (SRP) – calculated on the basis of their age, pay and length of service, and paid tax-free. There is also a weekly cap (currently £538) and a total cap (currently £16,140) when it comes to calculating SRP.

Some businesses may also offer enhanced redundancy packages, over and above SRP, which may also be paid tax-free (but not guaranteed) up to £30,000.

For those who have less than two years’ service, there is no automatic legal right to SRP. The employee’s contract and all redundancy-related policy documents should be checked, however, to make sure that no such right exists.

In addition, redundant employees (regardless of their length of service) will be entitled to their notice period and pay at the end of the procedure. Depending on the employee’s contract, you may be able to make a payment in lieu of their notice period (otherwise known as PILON).

MPs Criticised as Job Vacancies Reach Record Low

MPs have been accused of watching from the side-lines rather than stopping job losses by TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. 

This was in response to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures which found the number of workers on UK payrolls was down 650,000 compared with March 2020. 

Vacancies in the UK in the last three months were also at the lowest level since the ONS Vacancy Survey began in April to June 2001, at an estimated 333,000.

This is 23% lower than the previous record low in April to June 2009.

O’Grady said the figures were a national disaster waiting to happen.

She said: “Ministers are watching from the side-lines, instead of saving jobs with targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors like retail, manufacturing and aviation.

“The more people we have in work, the faster we will work our way out of recession. If the government doesn’t go all out to protect and create jobs, the economic crisis will be longer and harder.

“We can create jobs by fast-tracking infrastructure projects. This would speed up the delivery of faster broadband, more childcare, green technology, modern transport and housing. And it would create over a million jobs across the UK.”

The largest falls were seen at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and despite the numbers still falling, the rate of decline is slowing. 

The estimated employment rate for March to May 2020 was 76.4%, 0.3 percentage points up on the year but 0.2 percentage points down on the quarter.

This equates to 32.95 million people, 199,000 more than a year earlier but 126,000 fewer than the previous quarter.

Hours worked had reached record lows both on-the-year and on-the-quarter.

There are still a large number of people temporarily away from work, including furloughed workers, although this fell through May.

The ONS predicts half a million people are away from work and receiving no pay due to the pandemic. 

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO at City & Guilds Group, said the figures were a sign of the importance of providing training and jobs to those most in need. 

She said: “As well as supporting young people, we need to ensure that people of all ages, particularly those from lower socio-economic groups, or people displaced from industries badly impacted by the pandemic have the opportunities to gain the new skills they need to access meaningful employment.” 

Pay fell more in industries where furloughing was most prominent, particularly in typically low-pay industries such as accommodation and food service activities. 

Andrew Willis, head of legal at Croner, said HR should bear in mind the best methods of potential redundancy measures. 

He said: “Staff must be chosen in a fair and open way, preferably through a scoring criteria that focuses on attributes such as skills, experience and qualifications. 

“If more than 19 members of staff are to be made redundant, the employer will also need to implement a collective redundancy process. It should also be noted that furloughed staff can be made redundant at any point provided the correct procedure is followed.” 

The Job Retention Scheme, which was set up to protect jobs while businesses recover, will be wound down towards the end of October. 

Willis added: “It currently remains unclear what direction these figures will go in as the furlough scheme is wound down and employers lose the life jacket provided by the scheme. 

“That said, the government is committed to restarting the economy, with the hope that the general situation will improve going forward.” 

Government has attempted to incentivise employers to keep staff on until at least January 2021 by offering them £1,000 per employee if they can retain them until this time.

Is This the End of Office Life?
July 17, 2020
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By Bobby Palmer

The sudden boom in remote working has raised a flurry of questions surrounding a return to “normal” working life and the purpose of the workplace as we know it.

The office of the future looked very different five months ago. In January, Facebook announced plans to hire 1,000 staff members to fill their new £1-billion London HQ. But by May, the company had said half their future workforce will be permanently remote.

End of the office

This is just one example of how the coronavirus pandemic has blown apart companies’ conceptions of “the office”. Barclays boss Jes Staley has said “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”, while Shopify founder and chief executive Tobi Lütke tweeted his company will become digital by default. “Office centricity is over,” he proclaimed.

Flexible working is nothing new. A survey of 229 organisations by US research firm Gartner found 30 per cent of employees were already working from home at least some of the time before COVID-19 struck. Since the pandemic began, that number has jumped as high as 80 per cent.

“I think that somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back,” says Rich McBee, chief executive of remote network performance specialists Riverbed. With this in mind, it’s hard to disagree with Lütke’s hypothesis, but if office centricity is over, what does that mean for the office?

The workplace in the age of flexible working

“A lot of the trends that were on the way anyway have massively accelerated,” says John Drummond, chairman of workplace strategy experts Corporate Culture. “We’re going to see several short-term, pragmatic changes and one is that more people will work from home.”

This could mean an end to the classic command-and-control method of working, especially as flexible working seems to improve employee productivity, specifically in Generation-Z staffers, 60 per cent of whom have become more productive during lockdown, according to a study by Milkround.

Somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back

“I think you’re going to see flexible hours and output-based work versus hourly work,” says McBee. “What enables that is having at-office capability in your home office or from wherever you’re working.”

That means investment in connectivity and networks for those working flexible or compressed hours, as well as increased collaboration between employers and employees on the potential health pitfalls of remote working, such as burnout or back pain. Just last month, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai announced plans to provide workers with a $1,000 grant for at-home office equipment and furniture.

“The ‘individual cube’ of yesterday can be your home office,” says McBee. “It’s private, you’re working, you’re concentrated. Then, when it’s time to collaborate, the human-to-human interface will be done in a pseudo-office environment.”

Drummond says this presents a phenomenal opportunity for companies to reinvent the workplace in a work-from-home world. “The key question is what is the workplace for?” he says. “There’s a massive new opportunity for interior designers and architects, not just for the design of office spaces, but for the design of entire communities, neighbourhoods and cities.”

Designing the office of the future

If the office of the future looked different five months ago, try ten years. From Google’s sleep pods to Apple’s on-site wellness centre, the old future office was designed for people spending all their time at work. Now organisations are having to rethink office design for employees who want to spend more time at home.

“Companies may choose spaces which are more about collaboration than focused work, so I think we might see a proportion of desk space decrease,” says Guenaelle Watson, managing director of office consultants 360 Workplace. “These spaces could become more agile, collaborative work areas programmed for different teams to use.”

With offices being reimagined as creative meeting spaces and most desk work being done remotely, technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams will be at the forefront of keeping the future workplace connected.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella recently said his company has seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months; that’s because this digital change has been born out of adapt-or-die necessity, which will only continue to be the case in a post-COVID-19 world.

Thus, the need to return to hygienic workspaces will be one of the key drivers in digital workplace design. “We’ll see people not wanting to touch things in offices,” Watson explains. “That means the office, in time, may become contactless. You’ll be using voice recognition to open doors or apps to get yourself a coffee.”

In a world where the technology is improving every day, the physical space is becoming less and less important for forward-thinking and better-connected companies. Although meeting colleagues in a virtual reality office may still seem like a sci-fi concept, it’s not as far off as once thought.

“I think technology will get us to a point where that notion of physical location becomes a real question mark,” says Justin Westcott, European head of technology and chief operating officer for UK and Ireland at Edelman. “If you think about where we’re heading with 5G and latency, the doubling of performance in virtual reality in two years, while the costs half, that notion of the office increasingly becoming augmented is something I can see happening.”

Real estate and the digital office

“In a business like ours, our assets are our people and the office is the biggest overhead.” That’s why, when COVID-19 struck during early conversations about Edelman’s new London office, it was an opportunity for the company to interrogate what the modern workplace is for.

“There is always going to be a requirement for people to come together,” says Westcott. “Starbucks used to call themselves the ‘third space’ and I can see the office becoming the third space: you’re going to have your home, your home office and then the office.”

If the office does indeed become the third space, fixed desks could be done away with entirely, as could the traditional nine to five. “I think the notion of a ‘day in the office’ may be in question,” says Westcott. “It might be you come into an office for a ‘thing’, a task, a meeting, then you head out to wherever you want to get your work done.”

Leaders like Westcott and Watson see the office of the future as a place where employees meet, socialise and seek out the sort of spontaneous interactions video meetings don’t allow for. Interestingly, both see the office of the future looking something like a hotel lobby.

Somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back

Yet with temporary providers such as Zipcube and Spaces becoming evermore popular with startups of the WeWork generation, many will ask if these lobby-like office spaces are merely precursors to a world without offices at all.

Unlikely, Watson says. “Not having an office at all would be difficult and you’d struggle to create a strong company culture,” she explains. “You can deliver the work from home, but it won’t fulfil the human need for interaction.”

Instead, Watson foresees two potential trends for those looking to reinvent their working environment in the flexible-working world. Organisations will either repurpose some of their desk space into collaboration or wellness areas, or they’ll opt to trade in one larger central headquarters for a number of smaller, perhaps regional, hubs.

Which fulfils Lütke’s prophecy, in its own way. Office centricity is indeed over, but the office itself isn’t dead quite yet.

Author Avatar
Bobby Palmer

Freelance lifestyle and culture journalist, with work published in GQ, Time Out, Men’s Health, Esquire and Cosmopolitan.

Availability of Temporary Staff Reaches Record High

The availability of workers in the UK throughout June rose at the quickest rate since the depths of economic recession in January 2009 due to redundancies and workers on furlough.

The latest KPMG and REC UK Report on Jobs found there were increases for both permanent and temporary staff numbers, with the latter rising at the quickest rate in the survey’s 23-year history. 

Starting pay for both permanent and short-term staff fell in June as demand for workers remained weak and the labour supply continued to increase. 

Rates of pay reductions were not as severe as May, yet there were still decreases for both starting salaries and temp wages. 

Employee earnings including bonuses rose by just 1% year-on-year in the three months leading up to April, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This was weaker than the 2.3% rate of growth for the previous three-month period and marked the slowest rise in pay since the three months to September 2014.

Permanent staff appointments fell across England, with the steepest reduction seen in London. 

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said the figures demonstrated a jobs crisis across the country.

He said: “While there are signs that the worst declines are behind us, today’s figures show that it will be a while yet before we see job placements growing month on month. That’s no surprise, as businesses are focusing on bringing furloughed staff back to work, or making redundancies where they cannot be avoided. 

“Recruiters will be key to helping those who lose their roles find new work – there are always vacancies out there for jobseekers, though they are at a lower level than normal right now.” 

The private sector saw a larger decline in permanent vacancies compared to the public sector, yet the demand for short-term workers fell at a quicker pace in the public sector. 

Given hospitality has been one of the sectors worst hit by the impact of coronavirus, the steepest drops in vacancies were seen in hotels, catering and retail. 

There was also a decrease in nursing, medical and care roles. 

The UK Report on Jobs is compiled by IHS Markit from responses to questionnaires sent to a panel of around 400 UK recruitment and employment consultancies.