Notwithstanding the worrying potential of variant strains of the virus to undo our recent gains, this summer should see a sense of normality return. There will be the temptation for businesses to snap back to how things were back in those innocent early days of 2020, but this would be a mistake.
The impact of Covid-19 will be felt not just in the horrific and continuing human cost, or the record-breaking financial impact, but in a permanent shift in our values and priorities. The most obvious example of this is working from home, with between 40-50% of the UK workforce doing so over the past year. Once viewed suspiciously by many businesses, a significant proportion have, through necessity, demonstrated not only can they work from home, but they can do so with minimal impact on productivity.
Research suggests that only about 20% of people want to return to the office full time, with the remaining 80% wanting to maintain some, or all, of their working time from home. When asked, people cite the convenience that home working affords, including the lack of commute, but there’s a bigger story – the desire for better work/life balance. In surveys, 76% of Brits report their work-life balance is better since the pandemic and they are keen that it does not get compromised as the world reopens.
This phenomena has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but it is not new. As long ago as 2018, more than 70% of millennials stated flexibility was one of the most important things they looked for in a job, as opposed to under half of over-50s.
With most of us keen to keep partly working from home on a permanent basis, it also throws up big questions about the future of offices, employee engagement, city centres, mass transport systems and more. These present huge policy decisions for businesses and governments alike, but they should be embraced, not avoided. There is the opportunity for every business to examine exactly what it wants to be and how to meet the needs of its future employees, customers and stakeholders.
Organisations that tackle these challenging questions, that use the crisis as an opportunity to innovate and evolve, will put themselves in good stead for the future. Those that seek a return to the familiarity of the past could risk undermining the goodwill of stakeholders on all sides, starting with their employees.
For a long time now, the expectations on businesses have been rising from all sides. Employees, regulators, investors, activist consumers and the general public are all demanding more and reputation is more important than ever. A return to business as usual would not just undo some of the positive changes of the past year, it would simply be bad business.
Harry Shackleton is a partner at Inflect Partners, a strategic communications and business transformation consultancy.
Find out more at www.inflect.co.uk