‘In this market dynamic I hope that we don’t see employers taking advantage of workers’

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With many saying that the workplace has changed forever, Business Leader brought together a panel of experts to look at the current work dynamic and how it is likely to change in the future.

The panel

  • Stephen Ravenscroft – Memery Crystal
  • Nick Ulycz – Domestic and General
  • Ben Kiziltug – Personio
  • Dr Nicola Millard – BT
  • Andrew Scott – Ascot Group
  • Matthew Moore – CV Library

The debate started by looking at what leaders need to consider when they will be bringing staff back into the workplace in the coming weeks and months. Stephen Ravenscroft answered by saying: “What I’m seeing is that many employers and employees have recognised the benefits of home or blended working, and not all are in a huge rush to go back to the office. Having said that though, we will not see the end of the office as many jobs cannot be performed remotely.

“In regard to what leaders need to consider, the first thing is around making sure the premises are safe. Secondly, it is important to implement risk assessments and also consider data protection implications, if you’re asking employees medical questions on a daily basis, before they enter the office. Employees are themselves also raising concerns about getting to and from work, especially if they need to use public transport, so varying start and finish times can help with this.”

Stephen also talked about the legal implications of asking employees to return to work. He said: “If an employee is refusing to come back to work for a valid reason, then it is likely placing them on unpaid leave or keeping them furloughed would be preferable to letting them go.

“Business leaders do need to be careful of discrimination, if the employee is classed as vulnerable or is living with somebody that is vulnerable.”

Matthew Moore, who is the Managing Director of CV Library, then talked about how he has found this period and how remote working has been for a recruiter.

He said: “We have a large customer service and sales team that are on the phone, and that buzz of an office is important. We were not set up as a work from home business and it was a huge change, and one we have had to embrace.

“Moving to this model has allowed us to focus more on output, though, and come up with new ways to measure that. People will enjoy coming back to the office over time, but we’ve had to adapt and look at different ways to keep people motivated and thriving.”

Nick Ulycz from Domestic and General then talked about his experiences of moving to remote working.

He said: “It was a huge transition for us, having to move three thousand staff across nine countries to a remote working model. It has been a very successful process, though, and looking back, we were worried about productivity, but we didn’t need to be as people have been as productive or even more productive.

“It’s also made us challenge everything we thought we knew about change management. If you would have scoped this out as a project, it would have been one that would have likely taken two years and included hundreds of risk logs and strategy meetings, but when required, we achieved it within a couple of weeks.”

Andrew Scott, who is founder of the 70- strong Ascot Group, then gave his views on how the work dynamic has changed at his company.

He said: “In our business we have seen that some people have not embraced working from home and it has negatively affected their wellbeing but others slid into it fine and feel they’re more productive at home. We’re now moving back to everybody working in the office full-time.

“What I would also say though is that many businesses can’t offer remote working and building a strong culture is important too. We have created a culture in our company out of everybody being together and like a family. If you start to break this down, then you take away the soul of the business and it becomes transactional and just a job.

“It’s easier for a start-up with five people or a corporate to work remotely but for a businesses that is around 70 to 100 staff, I believe having the office environment is important.”

The debate then moved on to talk about Jack Dorsey’s (who is the Founder of Twitter) comments that he would allow all his staff to work from home.

But, how realistic is that for businesses in reality? Dr Nicola Millard said: “Working from home isn’t a new idea, and it’s something that we have been doing at BT since 1992, and I believe it should be a choice. There is a big gap, though, between those of us that are lucky enough to work from home and those that maybe live in shared accommodation, and I can understand the reticence from some employers to offer a fully home working model. I would say it’s important to trust people to choose the model that suits them.”

Following this part of the debate, Ben Kiziltug then talked about the role of the HR professional going forward and how technology can support them.

He said: “The role that HR plays within companies is now huge and some of the logistical feats companies achieved moving staff to remote working will have been helped enormously by HR teams. We are seeing more HR people on the board at companies now, and they are having to play a much more strategic role in companies, often becoming the heroes of these organisations.

“And to help them fulfil this evolving role is where technology plays a part, as it allows them to see and interpret data and analytics much quicker, so they can make the big decisions like who should come back off furlough first.”

The debate then shifted to the jobs market and what trends are being seen.

Matthew Moore comments: “The impact of the pandemic on the jobs market has been significant, and we’re still seeing job postings below normal levels, although this is improving month on month. We are also seeing a huge increase in job seekers as expected; and we won’t know the full extent of the situation until the furlough scheme and other government support ends.

“For the last two and a half years, it has been a candidate-dominated market, with the employee having the power, but this is shifting now, with employers having a choice of some very good people. I hope this doesn’t erode the progress we’ve made on things like health and wellbeing, and I’m confident it won’t as the majority of employers are responsible, but our research is showing there is already a squeeze on wages.”

Nick Ulycz also tackled this point by saying: “We’re seeing huge numbers of applications which are way above normal. The area where people are divided is whether we’ll have a V shaped bounce back, or the recession will be longer term and we’ll have a more depressed labour market. This will disproportionately hurt younger people, and in a market dynamic like this, I hope you don’t see workers at the bottom, and those in the gig economy, treated badly.”

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