As I write this, I realise how lucky I am to work for Eton Bridge Partners. As an Executive Search Consultant, I can work from home with unlimited access to senior business leaders across a variety of sectors and ownership structures, just as I would being based in the office.
Over the past 4 weeks, I’ve spent much of my time speaking to numerous CFOs, CEOs, HRDs, Chairman and Non- Exec Directors. Although everyone has had their circumstances drastically altered by the restrictions imposed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of my conversations have moved to thinking about life after COVID-19. Below are just some of the topics that have come up frequently during these conversations:
Could temporary flexibility become a permanent fix?
The majority of us are now working from home, a feat previously unimaginable. Prior to lockdown, flexible working methods were wholly embraced by some, but by no means all.
Many companies did not have a working from home culture. I’ve worked with a few who like having everyone in the office, often calling impromptu meetings and making instantaneous decisions as they felt it enabled creativity, sharing of ideas and learning opportunities.
Obviously, that’s not possible at the moment – but these companies are still functioning. I spoke to one FTSE 250 Group Financial Controller who, confronted with the need to carry out the year-end review remotely, thought it would be impossible without the team being physically present. In fact, they achieved it well within time with very few issues.
Employers are now asking fundamental questions about their traditional ways of working. Potentially, we will see a major culture shift within such organisations when things go back to whatever ‘normal’ is.
I imagine more employees will want to work from home more often in the future. Management teams will be hard pressed to find reasons not to allow them to do so.
As a result of the current situation, the hope is that people become more empathetic in future with regard to the challenges faced by those with disabilities or any other barriers to ‘conventional’ employment or lifestyle.
Whilst it can be frustrating for people with disability to see people adapting to a more flexible working pattern now that the majority of employees have no alternative, it can also provide hope. In the past it was not seen as straightforward or a necessity – but suddenly things have changed at astonishing speed because we have been forced into a ‘new normal’ and people have seen that it is possible to effect this change and remain efficient.
It will, therefore, be important that when these restrictions are lifted, business leaders should ensure that new flexibility around working is retained and seen as a good thing. This will open up the world of work to a more diverse pool of talent and make the world a better place.
The realisation that businesses can continue to function without everybody being in attendance at all times could, in turn, lead to some new thinking around office space. If you are going to have, say, one-third of your workforce working from home, will you need that big, shiny, expensive central London office? Arguably not. There could be an option to scale down your headquarters and spend money elsewhere in the business. Commercial property and Real Estate companies may need to re-think their business models.
Could Coronavirus improve gender equality?
One of the many causes for the inequality in gender pay is maternity leave; taking 12 months out of the workplace can mean things move on, and women can miss out on the chance to advance at work.
I’ve spoken to lots of dad’s (sorry, but it is mostly dad’s) recently who have said they will really miss the time they have had at home with their children – and many who have a new-found appreciation of how much hard work is involved in working from home while juggling the care of young children. Maybe, moving forward, things will be more balanced?
The experience of the current phase may see more men open to the idea of sharing parental leave and we could see more women returning to work sooner, leading to more shared parental responsibility, and access to more promotional opportunities.
Will we see a rise in recruitment and tech upgrades?
During this time, many businesses are discovering where the gaps are in their businesses. We spoke to one CFO who had been asked for a barrage of information, scenario analysis, long range plans and realised he needed to hire a dedicated FP&A specialist – not having this skillset in the team was a real challenge in the current climate. Post lockdown, this CFO will be hiring a FP&A specialist.
Equally, some companies have cut back staff quite dramatically to reduce their cost base. But when things go back to normal, having smaller teams will lead to issues – these gaps will need to be filled.
Similarly, if people are working from home more often, companies will need to invest more in the technology to facilitate the cultural shift. From the basics – making sure everyone has a laptop – to greater data storage, data security, and access to financial and CRM systems from home.
Some businesses are talking about accelerating technology lead change programmes over the next 3 – 6 months.
A heightened focus on mental health and wellbeing
Every line manager I’ve spoken to is currently looking for ways to maintain camaraderie in their team. They are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of their staff and are keen to ensure their colleagues have all the support they need.
One organisation I know has furloughed staff, claimed the 80% support from the Government and topped up the other 20% itself to ensure its employees have not had to take a wage cut. Leadership teams in multiple organisations has opted to take significant pay cuts, such as Taylor Wimpey, Sky and Santander, ranging from 20% – 100%. Kurt Geiger, CEO, Neil Clifford has opted to suspend his salary whilst the stores are shut, but is also donating shoes to NHS staff.
In addition to all of this, I’ve heard examples where businesses have created mental health groups, virtual team drinks on a Friday, groups to tackle loneliness and online exercise classes.
It would be illogical to switch away from being so supportive. It’s one of the ways in which the current situation can be seen as hugely positive; people have had to think about the wellbeing of their workers and will have to keep thinking about it looking to the future.
Organisations who look after their people now will come out of this stronger than the firms whose culture is immune to flexibility.
This is, not least, because a significant proportion of the emerging workforce is driven by values and purpose, rather than simply money. People want to feel that an organisation values its employees; those that do not will find their people opting to work elsewhere.
Will there be a big bounce back?
On a positive note, many of the contacts I’m speaking to are now focusing on life after COVID-19 and are already preparing themselves to be in the best possible position to thrive afterwards to meet renewed customer demand and to create new ways to reach customers.
During lockdown, I’ve noticed some of these organisations have been better than others at keeping in touch– and to be honest, it’s working! They’ll be the first ones I visit when lockdown ends – highlighting the need for good quality data and analytics.
The travel industry has been severely hit by the restrictions. Passenger travel has fallen by 90%, but many people are saying that when the current emergency is over, they are going to take a holiday and go somewhere sunny to treat themselves.
Not all businesses will bounce back robustly; some simply won’t make it. But for those that survive, there will undoubtedly be a steep recovery.
As I said at the beginning of this, I feel very lucky to be part of the Eton Bridge Partners team in this current situation. Our relationship driven approach means we’re all still here, working hard to support our network through this strange situation we all find ourselves in.
Clients are still hiring, candidates are still keen to hear about good opportunities.
We’ve adapted incredibly well to working from home, but mainly because of the support from colleagues and the leadership team. There is regular stream of Microsoft Teams activity – pub quizzes, yoga, team drinks and some business stuff too!
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