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What might a post-COVID workforce look like?

Published: 19th April 2021
Area: Employment

As the UK has cautiously eased lockdown restrictions, many businesses are now looking to the future and considering the options for their workforce and the possible end to remote working for some.

As the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out continues at speed, for those businesses bringing employees back into the physical workplace, employers are facing unprecedented challenges, particularly around the safety of vulnerable and shielding staff. Our guide outlines how businesses can prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout now.

For many businesses, the pandemic has radically changed the way in which their staff work and therefore many employers may take the pandemic’s end as an opportunity to rethink the way they operate.

Here we highlight what workforces may look like after the pandemic.

Flexible working

Some large businesses have already stated that they will not ask staff to return to the office full time. For example, accounting giant PwC have announced a policy of “start when you like, and leave when you like” and indicated that most staff would be able to work from home around two-three days per week as standard.

Many employees may never have imagined a life outside the office, but the pandemic has changed that, with previous permanent office-based roles having been completed remotely across the UK for over a year. As a result, employers can no longer argue that such roles are wholly unsuitable for home-office or other flexible arrangements.

However, employers should see this as an opportunity rather than a problem. For instance, by making use of remote working, many businesses are reducing office space in towns and city centres to save on costly commercial rent. Indeed some businesses may get rid of any requirement to attend an office at all, with music streaming service Spotify announcing that all staff can “work from anywhere”.

For businesses where most or all work can be carried out from home, employers way wish to adopt a hybrid approach. For example, this may involve smaller office space being retained for collaboration and to allow essential in-person connections and supervision among staff, but with flexibility for all employees to come and go from the office on a more ad-hoc or necessity basis. This approach could allow employers to improve the morale and wellbeing of staff, whilst saving on commercial rent and other associated costs of a larger office.

Our handy guide outlines seven practical issues employers should consider when their employees work remotely.

Working abroad

Another interesting approach is the British-based financial technology business Revolut, who recently announced they're giving their 2,000 plus employees the opportunity to work abroad, up to two months a year. The tech start-up said this arrangement would give its employees “flexibility”, after receiving many requests to visit family overseas for longer periods. Such opportunities to work from abroad for extended periods may allow employees to travel abroad in 2021 and beyond despite restrictions on travel, as they will have time to complete strict testing and quarantine rules required in many jurisdictions. Any employees that take up this offer will have to ensure that they are compliant with the tax laws in the jurisdiction they reside in for those two months, which may mean completing tax returns in both countries.

Similarly, some warmer parts of the world such as Barbados, and the British Overseas Territory of Anguila have tried to tempt professionals to relocate for up to a year, whilst keeping their existing job and working remotely.  It is thought that the warmer climates and island lifestyle might encourage wealthy professionals to take up the offer and in doing so, support the economies that have struggled without tourism income during the pandemic.

Sabbaticals

Longer periods of leave, or unpaid sabbaticals can be an inexpensive method for businesses of rewarding employees, provided the business is not so reliant on particular individuals that their absence would cause significant harm. For example, the energy firm Bulb has a policy of offering staff one month’s unpaid leave following the completion of a year’s service, coupled with a relatively generous annual leave allowance of 33 days. In addition, another well-established employer that offers extended leave is the John Lewis Partnership who, for many years, have famously offered six month’s paid leave to all employees that complete 25 years’ service.

Geographical pay

With many roles now advertised as wholly available to 100% remote working, the concept of variance in remuneration based on geography may be brought to the fore. For example, historically, London-based businesses were able to attract talent to the city with offerings of big pay and generous benefits. However, it is possible that employers may look to take on remote talent from elsewhere who will work happily for cheaper rates. On the other hand, some professionals may be able to secure higher wages from a London based employer, whilst working remotely and living in lower cost of living areas.

Supervision

For employers whose employees have worked remotely for over a year, many may have concerns regarding the supervision of junior staff, with remote working offering fewer opportunities for passive training and oversight.

Read our guide on how to effectively manage remote employees, including challenges when managing performance and how to effectively monitor employees who work from home.

Health and safety

Employers’ obligations to employees regarding health and safety as well as mental and physical wellbeing have not gone away despite offices desks being empty. Any employer considering making roles 100% remote will have to consider how they will ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect the employees’ working environment, and to ensure their wellbeing is looked after despite their lack of physical presence in the workplace.

Read our guide on what employers need to know, including how to deal with workplace injuries, identifying risks and how HR teams can help reduce their likelihood.

We’re here to support you, whatever approach you decide to take.

If you’re considering a renegotiation of your commercial lease, or altering the terms and conditions of your employment contracts, then our specialist landlord and tenant team and employment lawyers can guide you through your options.

Our employment law experts are on hand to review your company policies and procedures and can advise and support you on transitioning roles to partially or fully remote bases.

Contact a member of our employment team to see how we can help you to unlock your potential.

Our employment team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your business out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

From inspirational SHMA Talks to informative webinars, we also have lots of educational and entertaining content for life and business. Visit SHMA® ON DEMAND.

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