C Level Discussion on the New Normal

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C Level Discussion on the New Normal

We invited a panel, from across industry, to discuss what Recovery from Lockdown could possibly look like.

The conversation centred around the below subjects:

  • What does recovery look like?
  • Does recovery look different for different industries?
  • How do we create a new norm?
  • What will stage return look like?
  • Is the workforce currently fit and able?
  • What are the business plans, have plans before lockdown been thrown away, are you working to new plans or a combination?
  • People resistance?
  • Will employees need to go through new inductions – training / awareness?
  • The panel had an attendance of 25 C level.

The participant industries: technology, insurance, global finance, global bank, global technology services, retail, charity, property management, software services, multichannel retail, pharmaceutical, insurance and legal

The consensus from the panel was operations are now working as they were previous to lockdown. Obviously, there are variations on profitability and output depending on industry, however, this is not a reflection on the ability to operate, which is now, after the initial scramble, back to pre-lockdown levels.

Recovery depended on both the actual company and industry. Industries, which have large office spaces have adapted well to the lockdown, however, where a business has a shop front, this has proved more problematic. For those, which yearn for a vibrant retail city centre are probably going to be disappointed, the lockdown has pushed the population further online and the consensus was this was here to stay. Unfortunately, there was no participants from a hospitality or travel industry and it would have been very interesting to hear their views on how their industries will recover.

An interesting comment from global organisations was that their office strategy before lockdown was a hot-desk policy. With hot-desking not an option in the lockdown recovery or possibly once the population has been vaccinated a larger workforce based from home was the easiest and most viable option.

In offices of all sizes the sheer complexity of getting to work via public transport, using lifts, sitting at traditional desks, using canteens or simply moving around the office to accommodate social distancing meant a substantial workforce working from home was the most practical, economical and productive way forward. There would obviously have to be a contingent of the workforce in the office for certain job roles, however, where feasible, the work from home policy was here to stay for a large proportion of the workforce.

Several of the panel commented on the amount of investment the company has made for the ability to work from home was not going to be thrown away once there was an ability to work in an office environment. Instead a hybrid model would probably be employed, which would mean businesses didn’t need the use of large expensive office spaces, needing only a slimmed down office for the future. This of course raises lots of questions for office spaces and further adds to questions to the use of city centres in the future.

An interesting point was raised regarding the work / social life of people within the city of London, where people’s social life (especially those of a certain age bracket) revolved around meeting up after work. People, especially in London, may well have social circles where people could be living on the opposite sides of the geographical area and therefore working in an office was important from a social aspect. This could therefore be a strong driver to working in an office environment once again.

A couple of interesting points were also raised with regards to attracting talent and house prices, which will be covered in the next session. In summary, if we’re moving to a larger proportion of working from home, how will this change attracting talent – the traditional reasons for joining a company may well change, so may salaries. In a future of working from home, attracting talent will no longer be within, say, a 1-hour commute but the talent pool will be across the country and maybe even the globe; this will have an effect on where people can live. Will this mean a drop in house prices in London and an increase in other areas?

As mentioned, productivity across industries has been high. The consensus was working from home had huge benefits: no travel time and saving money being two of the biggest benefits. A few panel members did speak about counsellors being used with their workforce, as the lockdown has affected the workforce mentally. There are people who have not adapted to working from home, some people need a differentiator between work and home environments, especially when someone is living in a flat, staring at the same four walls or there is a young family, where there are conflicting needs of child care and work pressures. For these groups (and others), working in an office environment will still be a desirable option.

With regards to people resistance there was no general consensus. As mentioned, with the above discussion points, there were people / management who wanted to get back to an office environment, there were people / management who were happy to stay working from home and there was management who didn’t want to throw away the financial investment, which has been made in home working; whilst also maximising on reducing costs this brings. The panel believed there would be a significant proportion of resistance from people worried about catching the virus once they were back in an office environment. Counselling and a long, phased response to working in an office would have to be employed for those employees needing or having to work in a pre-lockdown environment. This also led onto a new discussion point of: have businesses planned for a 2nd wave.

Most of the businesses believed there would be a 2nd (and more) waves. There was a consensus what has been implemented in this lockdown was fit for purpose for the coming waves. There was also a consensus the possibility of future waves meant a cautious response to returning to pre-lockdown environments and several businesses saw working from home for at least the next year as the most viable option. There would be a drop in productivity returning to pre-lockdown environment, with on-boarding / training and with future waves. Whilst the panel didn’t believe the actual on-boarding and training, in themselves, had a significant impact on productivity it was the auxiliary elements around these activities and new working practices, which would be the contributors to the impact. For the majority of the panel, remaining in the current environment, maintaining productivity at current levels was the most practical solution for the immediate future.

Key Findings from event:

  • Lockdown Divide
  • Blue-Collar Benefit
  • End of Hot-Desking
  • Demise of Offices

The last 2 months has created a Lockdown Divide between blue-collar and white-collar industries for working patterns and environments. It is true, before the lockdown some blue-collar professionals were able to work from home or “remotely”, to varying degrees. What the lockdown has provided is a new Blue-Collar Benefit, where working from home full-time is a realistic benefit and possibly entitlement for all who work in a blue-collar industries.

What is also clear from the event, is with modern technology, blue-collar industries have been able to be operationally successful with all their staff working from home. Granted there was an initial drop in productivity and some degree of chaos, however, this was due to operational readiness at that point in time. Once the initial chaos was overcome, the ability for blue-collar businesses to work at full capacity was realised.  The unknown outcome of if and when a vaccine will be found and the real possibility of unknown viruses in the future meant the End of Hot Desking was a very real possibility. With numerous businesses physically not having enough desk space for all of their employees (therefore actively employing hot desking environments) further reinforced the prospect of working from home as a Blue-Collar Benefit for the future.

The combination of the new Blue-Collar Benefit, End of Hot Desking and the ability for businesses to operate at full operability with a working from home workforce could mean the Demise of Offices. Just as the demise of retail space in city centres due to out of town shopping centres and the internet, the recent events could be the first nail in the coffin for office space.

Thank you to all of the panel.