As I write these words in early January, 2020 is finally, at long last, over. Good riddance!
Yes, the UK government has just announced a new lockdown in England, following Scotland’s example just a few hours earlier. Yes, several other European countries has been living in lockdowns for weeks already, complete with curfews and the shutting down of public life.
Be that as it may, we cannot get away from the fact that there is an overriding cause for hope as we enter 2021: the new year promises us a range of vaccines likely to change the game in the COVID-battle for the better across the globe. Twelve months ago, who would have thought that the light at the end of the tunnel would ever take the shape of a syringe?!
Given this prospect of an effective vaccine, my first hope for 2021 is a return to normal, to what many professionals call “B.A.U. -“ or business-as-usual-mode. However, business as usual will have a different meaning in a post-COVID world than it did in a pre-COVID environment. I have identified four areas where the changes of 2020 were not just part of crisis management but are likely to become permanent inventory.
Working from home is here to stay
Our Finance Director has a saying I love: “I don’t care whether you work from the office, from home, from the beach or from Mars – as long as you bring in the revenue.” At 6 Group, this has been policy long before my joining the company; in other businesses and sectors, all too often sayings like this may once have been lip-service. Covid-19 changed all of it and forced the service sector as a whole to embrace the home office – warts ‘n’ all.
If you are planning a return, once possible, to a routine that sees office-presenteeism at its core, you are taking a huge risk. Not only will your employees who by now have become comfortable with home office (and maybe even love it) become serious flight risks, you might also significantly harm productivity. A working day in the office is the middle between two commuting journeys, after all – a working day at home is, by definition, infinitely more flexible.
As with so much else, working from home comes down to trust. If your workforce consists mostly of recent graduates in their early twenties with little professional experience, a working-from-home policy will probably do more harm than good, unless it is heavily restricted. If your workforce consists of colleagues without a spare room at home and/or bringing up young children, such a policy will not be doing them any favours – quite the opposite! This already captures a sizable chunk of the working population, whom you can count on at your premises pretty much every day.
For everyone else, working from home might just have been one of the very few positives of 2020. You will lose their motivation or even their services if you take it away from them.
It's ok to call in sick
After what the Western world has been through in 2020, hopefully – surely! – this is an obvious one. Who doesn’t know the struggles of forcing yourself to work with a fever or a severe cough or a headache? I appreciate that this issue is closely related to the home-office subject, however, the days must now be gone where this was common practice.
Realistically, a more tolerant approach towards sickness-affected absenteeism levels will turn into a trade-off. Whereas previously we will have seen a sustained period of reduced productivity when a given employee was struggling with a virus or infection, you should now bite the bullet and take one or two days of zero productivity in order to get this employee back to 100%.
Again, this comes down to trust. If you suspect someone of “pulling a sickie”, maybe you made the wrong hire altogether.
The case against business travel has never been Greta
This one is painful for me to write because I love travelling. However, if your business has gone through 2020 by replacing business travel with Microsoft Teams or Zoom and therefore saved some much-needed cash – why on earth would you go back?!
To be sure, business travel will not disappear altogether. Personal meetings – cherished even more after the pandemic – are still a powerful tool in building relationships. However, when we are looking at the second or third meetings, at repeated internal flights from London to Manchester or from Munich to Hamburg, we should be seeing a pre-COVID relic consigned to the history books. Collectively, these follow-up trips are bad for our diaries, bad for our work-life balance and, not least, bad for the environment. Do Greta and yourself a favour.
Besides, this is a perfect opportunity to reallocate funds and invest into your business.
Don't rely on the V
At the start of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about a “V-shaped” recovery – a sharp recession and an equally sharp re-increase in economic activity. I seriously doubt that this is going to happen, ever after a vaccine has hopefully soon brought COVID-19 under control. After all, the economy at the end of the pandemic will be a different one to what it had been beforehand. Unemployment will be significantly higher, the number of active businesses ready to hire those unemployed will be significantly lower. Capacity for government intervention will also be reduced after unprecedented levels of public borrowing over the last year. To be sure, this isn’t to say that a recovery won’t be forthcoming and it will pay long-term dividends to define and implement a bold growth strategy for 2021.
However, if a consequence of that is a growth in your headcount, the lack of a V-recovery has a serious consequence: the talent pool will be vast, with many high-profile candidates out of employment. This shouldn’t tempt you to implement a long and excruciating hiring process and you shouldn’t dither on the final decision with the anticipation of someone better to come along. Doing so will seriously harm your employer branding in the talent market, as your reputation will become that of a crisis-profiteer. It will also likely not result in the best candidate coming into your business, but rather in hiring someone desperate enough to bend with your winds.
I guess the message here should be not to change your hiring process just because the talent market has become more crowded. In other words, if you don’t trust your hiring process now, maybe you shouldn’t have trusted it before.
Those four aspects notwithstanding, any business still operating in one year’s time will carry something of a badge of honour. Those who have been through the economic crisis of the late 2000s know that times can be as bad as they want – usually, eventually, things will get better.
Isn’t that a nice thought to take into 2021.
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6 Group partners with clients to help design their organisational structures - typically as a component of other initiatives e.g. transformational changes, wider organisational redesigns and leadership assessment & development programmes.
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