The challenge of adopting fundamental changes in the way the population works post pandemic is outlined by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) in a new best practice guide. With lockdown restrictions expected to ease, firms will need to assess the needs of staff in areas such as training and development, wellbeing, office space and innovation and collaboration as well as the requirements of clients. The events of the last year have made organisations reassess how and where they work, accelerating trends in digital transformation and remote working. But while many businesses are acting on the opportunity to shift to hybrid working and develop a more virtual organisation, it’s critical to understand the implications on key areas such as wellbeing, workforce engagement and global mobility.
Although a large number of firms and their clients adapted quickly to using new digital technologies and are working successfully from home, there is acknowledgement of the impact on staff, especially younger employees whose training and development, as well as social interaction, has been affected. A recent MCA Member Survey revealed that the repercussions of increased flexible and remote working are cited as having the biggest impact on the consulting sector going forward (73%) and 40% of young consultants say their training and development has suffered working remotely1. As well as technology requirements, companies are also having to deal with changes to staff contracts as well as requests to work abroad which can create complications. There is a growing expectation among staff for clarification on changes to working practices for the long term.
Many consultancy firms have already worked on a hybrid model of remote working for many years and to assist others to plan the MCA has produced a best practice guide to hybrid working as businesses assess areas such as health and safety, technology and wellbeing among others.
Best practice on hybrid working should include:
Well-being and development
- Some employees are struggling to work from home due to lack of space or because they prefer to be office based. Companies may still need to provide flexibility and office space for those staff to work where appropriate as well as continuing with mental wellbeing programmes to support staff.
- Businesses will need to decide how they can monitor wellbeing and productivity going forward as working practices change. This could include monthly surveys, mentoring schemes, collaborative team days, flexible start times, and an anonymous forum where staff can express their views.
- The MCA Member Survey 2021 revealed that training and development had been impacted during COVID-19, especially for younger and new staff who are trying to build a career – either because it had reduced in quantity or quality. Firms will need to evaluate what changes need to be made to training and development going forward to ensure it is successful if delivered digitally.
- As well as formal training schemes firms need to assess how they can innovate the training environment offices deliver and how to embed this online. Often this requires firms to actively invite less experienced colleagues to more meetings to observe them, more communication from senior staff to help talk through why certain strategies have been adopted and new staff representatives at key meetings.
- Firms are experiencing more staff requesting changes to their contracts with flexible working, reduced hours and working from home being written in. Businesses will need to review on a case by case basis, consider the overall impact on productivity, how often these changes will need to be assessed as well whether a new standardized contract for new joiners is required.
- Employees are also requesting to relocate to different areas around the UK. Firms will need to consider the ability to access office sites and client locations as well as practical issues such as broadband connection and technology requirements.
- Staff are also requesting to work outside the UK. Again, consideration will need to be given to factors such as the tax implications, time difference and additional costs to the firm for relocation which can be considerable, especially if legal, data and visa checks are required.
Health and Safety
- Many businesses had previously set up office space for hot-desking. This will need to be reviewed given Government guidance on the cleaning of desks as mandatory, as well as any booking systems and whether staff will need to book in advance and/or who has priority.
- Firms will need to assess whether office managers will need to be on site to check signage, cleaning rotas and staff on a daily basis.
- The possibility of set days for certain teams to be in the office needs to be considered as well as a review of those staff who have to commute by public transport and risk possible infection.
- The actual space in offices should be assessed. This includes the repurposing of offices for collaboration and not just sitting next to each other working.
- Consideration of vaccination rules once advice from Government has been updated and a review of employer’s liability insurance and whether cover is provided for employees who are not vaccinated.
- With staff both working from home and in the office, it needs to be clear how meetings will work so that people are not excluded. Consideration of the impact on team culture and whether all staff should be on a device regardless if they are present physically should be decided.
- Although IT was purchased at the beginning of lockdown more support for the adoption and digital skills to use technology may be required to make hybrid working work better. Examples include remote camera for screens, office cameras for group meetings and telephone systems to transfer calls to staff working remotely.
- A review of current technology and how it is working a year on and whether changes need to be made is also optimal as well as recalibrating the overall digital workplace strategy and closing any gaps that may have opened in governance structures due to fast roll outs in the pandemic
Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), said:
“Covid-19 has made working from home a reality and a necessity but there can be no doubt that there will be a ‘new normal’ for businesses and employees in how they work going forward. Although there has been efficiency and adaptability, there has also been a loss of experiences, development and face to face interaction, which firms are currently addressing ahead of the expected easing of restrictions later this year. The next challenge is to reassess office space and how it is used to ensure improved quality of life both at work and home as the concept of hybrid working evolves.”
There have been benefits to remote working which will however continue to be embraced. New technologies have empowered people and a change in working arrangements has seen an increase in part-time, freelance and flexible working which benefits careers, companies and the wider community as well as bringing more diversity to the workforce. The ability to work anywhere, anytime and with anyone has led to innovation and a reduction in the carbon footprint due to less travel. Employees have been prepared to adapt, re and upskill as well as being more aware of their work/life balance and personal pursuits outside of work. This demand for flexible and remote working is not expected to diminish and businesses will need to consider a variety of factors going forward.
Further information can be found at www.mca.org.uk