COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a significant impact on firms – across employees, supply chains and demand, businesses have faced huge challenges throughout the pandemic.
The CBI’s Under 35 Committee provides a forum for members to hear and learn from others about how different businesses are responding. Committee members have discussed COVID-19's impact on their respective business and industries, changes to the way they work, and whether these changes will be carried into the future.
Members have recently discussed how they’re looking to use the crisis as an opportunity to ‘build back better’ through firms’ number one asset – their people. Below, members of the CBI’s Under 35 Committee share their reflections on what the future of work might hold.
Changing employee and employer mindsets – increased flexible working
From a manufacturing point of view, although firms may be able to re-start production with the necessary health and safety measures in place, it will largely depend on their supplier’s capability to provide raw materials or parts, and the customer demand for their products.
As a result, the months to come will be an interesting landscape for all of us to navigate our way through. In terms of employee mindset, there will likely be two camps. Those employees who are keen to return to some semblance of normality and return to the workplace, and those who feel it is too early to be leaving their homes and risk contracting COVID-19.
Businesses will need to ensure they communicate regularly and effectively with their employees to reassure them of the increased health and safety measures that are now in place to protect them.
Whilst some office-based employees in the industry have continued to work from home, it will be interesting to see if businesses allow such flexible practices to continue beyond COVID-19. We could see a change in mind-set around flexible working for some parts of the industry following a period of home working which has been relatively successful.
Jo Hems – Human Resources Principal Specialist, Toyota
Keeping the positives – authentic engagement with colleagues
Working for HSBC in Hong Kong meant I was part of the first phase of staff returning to the office in early May 2020.
It has been clear in recent months that working from home and conducting meetings over Zoom can be done and does not hamper productivity. While it could be easy for us to forget about ‘switching off’ by the evening, we’ve found it is important to take intermittent breaks and put the laptop away at a certain hour.
Not only does this new mode of working allow people to spend more quality time with family, it also offers an opportunity for colleagues to get to know each other better. People in their home surroundings are more authentic in engagement with colleagues, and it helps build rapport when a child or family member comes into view on your morning Zoom chat.
We’re hoping to keep these positive outcomes and flexible approach to working when everyone is back in the office.
Andrea Tiwana – Senior Vice President, HSBC
A long-term perspective – protecting young people in the recovery
Reports from The Learning and Work Institute, The Resolution Foundation, and Youth Futures Foundation all show that the impacts of the COVID-19 recession will affect young people disproportionately with long-term damage to their pay and job prospects.
Tackling the aftermath of this pandemic will need to be just as much a collective effort as tackling the pandemic in the first place. Business and Government must, therefore, come together to think about what a healthy inter-generational labour market might look like after the lockdown. This could potentially include job guarantees for young people – a policy that was adopted in the early part of the 2008 financial crash – as well as increased apprenticeship opportunities.
A longer-term economic restructuring with a renewed focus on people and skills, not just the role of technology, in sectors that can grow sustainably will also be required. Any restructuring must also consider the role of the gig/sharing economy, which is often dominated by young people, and its precariousness.
Beyond the type of work, the way we work is also likely to change. In the short-term there will be several basic changes to keep workers safe – a staggered workforce may become standard, with smaller groups coming in on alternate days and shifts that avoid transport rush-hour peaks.
In the longer-term, however, the home is now considered a legitimate workplace and we are likely to see a growth in homeworking and remote working which provides increased flexibility. This will have implications on social mobility as increased flexibility will open career paths for individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds whilst preventing brain drain in the regions as young people have more flexibility on where they can live and work.
Joseph Priestley – Public Affairs Manager, Zurich