By Morten Petersen, Co-founder of intelligent tech recruitment platform worksome
Covid-19 has completely changed normal behaviour in our day to day lives. People around the world have adapted to the pandemic by social distancing, missing out on seeing family at Christmas and becoming completely comfortable with wearing a mask everyday. But whilst these adaptations were supposed to be temporary, it would be wrong to believe that they’ll simply disappear once a vaccine has rolled out.
Our lives have new rhythms and patterns, and we have come to realise that there are various elements of the “old normal” that we want to eliminate when fabricating our “new normal”.
Take the world of work, for example. Before the pandemic, 25% of the job adverts on our platform were for remote working; this figure has now escalated to 90%. Remote working has granted people the flexibility to control their own working environment, with no need to waste time commuting or travelling to time consuming meetings. In other words, only when presented with the flexibility of remote working did the UK workforce realise the inflexibility of office-based working.
There has also been a boom in freelancing. According to our own research with over 1000 freelancers, more than 1 in 5 went freelance during the pandemic, with 15% having done so after being made redundant from a permanent role. However, this is not just a temporary shift. Many report freelancing providing them with more economic security, freedom and a better work-life balance than a permanent role. In fact, 83% of Worksome’s freelancers cannot see themselves ever returning to a permanent job.
Covid-19 has, then, generated a profound and lasting shift in the way that we work. There will not be a mass exodus back into offices once the vaccine is rolled out because people no longer want to work from an office 5-days-a-week when they know that they can be equally as, if not more, productive when working from home.
However, companies such as Facebook and Twitter seem to have interpreted these learnings the wrong way in announcing a permanent move to remote working. We cannot simply transfer a black-and-white preference for office-based work to one for remote work, because there is no one-fits-all solution.
Far from being the “great leveller” as it was initially labelled, Covid-19 highlighted difference and inequality, and these differences manifested themselves in different people’s varying ability to work productively from home. Those with child-care responsibilities, for example, may find it harder to work from home, and other jobs are simply impossible to do remotely.
The approach that we need to take is one of flexibility, of empowering employees to make their own choices about how to work. Employers must put trust into their employees to determine their own optimal working style, and give them the resources to put this into practice.
For many employers, this may be easier said than done. It requires a profound shift from the traditional control-based management style adopted by business leaders across the country. Business leaders could ensure that their employees were working to a high standard by having them come into the office every day, monitoring their hours and creating a culture of presenteeism.
When working from home, this becomes impossible. Bosses have had to create a mutual trust between employees and themselves. This new style of leadership is only just becoming a reality, with employers realising that it may actually be more productive than their previous modus-operandi after witnessing the success of remote working over previous months.
Although we know that work is transforming, exactly how it will look is yet to be known. Certainly, Brexit will complicate the UK jobs market. This is particularly the case for freelancers working overseas, who may find themselves entangled in the confusion surrounding working arrangements now that Britain has left the EU. It will almost definitely also affect workers in the UK though; almost half (46%) of our freelancers expect less jobs to be available at the beginning of this year as Brexit will place more pressure on businesses already strained due to Covid-19.
Whilst there may be hurdles and challenges in its way, what is for sure is that work will never look the same. Freelancing and flexible working are on the up, and the make up of the UK workforce will be changing shape over the months and years to come. Whilst the threat of the virus may come to an end with vaccine roll-out, the transformations that it has generated in the way that we work are only just beginning.