Capital Markets Corporate

March 31, 2021

Workers take back control


Events of the last year have felt epoch-defining in many ways, leaving an inescapable feeling that we will look back at this era not solely as the time the planet was in the grip of a deadly virus, but as a time that forced the beginnings of a major societal reset. It certainly feels that way from inside the eye of the storm, but it is incumbent on us all to ensure we take the opportunity to effect the changes we want to see.

The volume of protests and marches seen over the past 12 months on a host of issues – from climate change to racial and gender equality – suggests growing numbers of people take the view that proactivity can be purposeful, that you don’t have to glibly accept circumstances you don’t agree with, and that enough is definitely enough when it comes to some of society’s ills.

This feeling of restlessness has extended into the world of work. Despite a rate of redundancies not seen in a generation and many employees furloughed for months on end, there is also a separate sense of empowerment. Individual workers are becoming attuned to their own worth – and rights – more than ever and aren’t necessarily going to be shy to speak up for them.

Power to the people

It certainly feels like there has been a power shift from companies to their workforces since the onset of the pandemic. Operating remotely was previously a privilege only afforded to a relatively small percentage of office-based employees and a way of working that suffered reputation problems due to the belief that productivity was adversely impacted.

The past year has shown this is simply not the case, and the world of work looks set to change forever, despite the Government’s claim sometimes missing the mark. Many people have worked harder than ever since March 2020 due to fears over their job security and the blurring of lines between work and home, yet the Prime Minister tactlessly alluded to ‘days off’ in a recent exchange.

Despite Whitehall showing its ignorance – and vested interests – to the ongoing evolution of the workplace, the corporate world is luckily a step ahead. Nationwide Building Society was the latest large employer to officially implement flexible working, telling its 13,000 office staff to work anywhere, be that home or a local high street branch – wherever suits best to get the job done. The accompanying messaging about giving employees “more control of their lives” is a mature, contemporary approach that reflects how times have changed.

Offices still have a part to play in the future of work with many companies set to adopt a hybrid model that includes remote working and face-to-face meetings and others implementing safeguards to protect against some of the downsides of the former such as ban on video calls at certain times or on particular days.

Indeed, it reflects far better on companies to proactively introduce such policies rather than having them forced on them by an internal uprising, as the likes of Deliveroo, Uber and Asda can attest. In fact, Deliveroo’s value ahead of its IPO is being significantly impacted by the protracted negotiations over worker’s rights.

Building back better

Although productivity for remote office workers has not significantly fallen in the past year, being away from the office environment has given many employees more time for reflection on what they want their working life to look like and how it fits round their home life, rather than the other way round.

The real winners from this will be the companies who turn what has been a trying time into a positive; who listen to what their workforces want and introduce changes rather than stoically attempt to revert to the way things were. This flexibility will not only be an important retention tool, but can also become a point of difference to attract new talent. Like any good relationship, the employer-employee dynamic is centred on trust and the more empowered and engaged workers feel, the more likely they are to be a positive influence in the workplace.