people in glass office.

Emerging from uncertain times 

The future of the workplace

people in glass office.
Commentary from Richard Evans, Head of Risk and Assurance at Crowe and HR specialist Stuart Buglass, director at Crowe. 

To emerge successfully from this period of uncertainty, organisations must look ahead to predict what the future of the workplace will look like.

HR and the workplace

The Chancellor’s recent Summer Statement focused on getting the country back to work through the interplay of the Job Retention Bonus and Kickstart Scheme for apprentices. However, to successfully engage their workers long term, a business will need to meet head-on the issues thrown up by social distancing and remote working. Employee wellbeing was on the leadership agenda pre-lockdown, but the distance between co-workers created by COVID-19 has heightened its importance.

Many of these challenges are not new to the gig economy, and non-gig economy organisations can learn from the gig sector. For example:

  • ensure work processes are not too decentralised, to establish touchpoints for team members and avoid local siloes
  • extend interaction beyond normal day-to-day work; for instance by establishing task teams to solve organisational problems
  • encourage verbal communication by weekly team meetings or creating communications-based performance metrics
  • use storytelling: create forums where experiences can be shared (vulnerabilities or lessons learnt by senior employees can be particularly powerful)
  • create a shared purpose: ensure that employees know your vision and goals and their part in getting you there
  • share the journey together: keep employees informed along the way to generate deeper understanding of, investment in, and support for decisions being taken.

Travel and commuting

As cities and office begin to re-open, many employees remain wary of travelling on crowded public transport systems. Potential solutions are, however, already beginning to take hold. New commuting options include e-scooters, which became legal on UK roads on 4 July 2020 and offer a socially distance-friendly alternative means of transport. Trials will be key to identifying the key design and regulatory processes that must be incorporated into a proper rollout.

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Richard EvansRichard Evans, Head of Risk and Assurance at Crowe, said:

"New pilot rental schemes for e-scooters in cities offer workers a commuting alternative that could minimise social distancing issues. On top of the positive impact on urban placemaking and the environment, this could also be a fun way to travel and lighten the mood or reduce trepidation about returning to work.

"However, the impact on people with disabilities, as well as the need for broader legal and safety regulation, must not be overlooked. Tackling issues around licensing and repurposing cycle lanes will be key requirements of the trial. Moreover, safety will be of utmost importance – ensuring the maintenance of the scooters, encouraging the use of protective headgear, clarity of branding and providing rider guidance and training will be interesting challenges for prospective licensees.

"There are a myriad of opportunities – corporate partnerships would be one option for a positive revenue stream and encourage usage, particularly when considering the placement of ’hubs’.

"This could be a viable commuting option, but establishing effective systems and getting a clear compliance map in place will be critical to its success. The regulatory requirements themselves are to be defined following the trial period and for those operating in multiple licensing areas, defining the right framework in partnership with regulators will be of benefit to providers, riders, other road users and the licensing authorities."

Stuart BuglassStuart Buglass, HR Advisory Director at Crowe, said:

"The events surrounding COVID-19 have exposed a key psychological fact: the human desire to belong, a basic need according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply put, employees need to feel they belong to the organisation they work for.

"Prior to the pandemic, the issue of ‘belonging’ was already a major issue in the gig economy. A lack of belonging can generate isolation, fragmentation and stress in individuals and detrimental commitment and performance levels for employers. The detachment from the workplace that COVID-19 has caused is bringing gig economy challenges to the wider workforce; instilling a sense of belonging and restoring social bonds will be a key focus for employers and HR professionals in the coming months.

"Uncertainty is ever-present, but its management in a crisis can be crucial. Adopting a status quo approach is rarely the right option: an organisation’s response must deal with the immediate short-term while remaining alert to longer-term resilience-building. Prioritising employee wellbeing throughout this process is essential.”

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