On the evening of Friday, March 13, 2020, most companies in the US and worldwide told their employees to work from home for two weeks as a health emergency rapidly engulfed the world. By the end of the month, nearly every country had instated a full lockdown, restricting movement and assembly in a way that many had never seen before. For the first time ever, the world was united by being apart.
A year on, we are still fully assessing the impact that global lockdown has wrought on businesses and workers. While it’s true that different governments have tried a range of methods to counter the economic fallout of the pandemic, the challenges faced by businesses have followed a universal template, regardless of location or sector: catastrophic disruption to cashflow; drop in profits; and upheaval to staff working practices.
When we reflect on this extraordinary time in years to come, there is every likelihood that it will be the shift to remote work that has the most wide-ranging ramifications. Major players such as have already committed to allow their employees to work from home for an extended period of time – and even permanently.
So, What Have We Learned?
- Employers need to be more human. Some employees have enjoyed the transition to working from home and have found they have become more productive as a result. To others, a lack of direct social interaction and an absence of structure and routine has led to increased anxiety and impacted mental well-being. In the UK, more than two-thirds of adults reported that they feel “very worried” about the impact the pandemic is having on their lives. To combat this, 63% of employers have increased well-being support for their employees, according to research conducted by Group Risk Development. Additionally, employers have acted to support employees facing difficulties balancing work and childcare, with 66% of companies expressing a willingness to offer increased flexibility for working parents. The same data revealed that 63% of businesses had offered additional childcare benefits to support employees with children.
- Future of employment and HR. While the future of work has undergone dramatic change – potentially forever – how are employers and employees alike expected to adjust? 64% of organizations anticipate the shift to remote working will be a permanent one, according to a recent report. The pandemic has forced companies to be more flexible or accepting of their employees’ preferences regarding how they work. Spotify, for example, introduced a “Work From Anywhere” program, allowing employees to alternate between the office and working from home as and when they please.
- How to manage the return to the office. The shift to remote working presented a sizeable challenge for both employers and workers. Employees have repurposed spare bedrooms and kitchen tables into functioning office spaces. Many have had to adapt to new technologies, learn fresh skills and upgrade their broadband connections, all the while trying to manage family obligations. As employers look to migrate staff back into office buildings, the return to normality presents new challenges for workers who have become acclimatized to working from home. Employers should mobilize HR departments to help with the transition and signpost all the resources available for employees anxious about returning to the office. Companies might consider a phased return to the office by striking a balance between home and on-site working. Spain has recently begun a trial of a four-day working week, an idea that is gaining traction around the world and will continue to do so as businesses and employees look for ways to readjust to a post-Covid world.
- Global business growth can still happen. 2021 is set to be a year of recovery and the global economy is expected to expand by 5.2%. Pre-pandemic, business was, for the main part, conducted face-to-face and the idea of global expansion was only made feasible through travel and social interactions. With a year of proof that running a business virtually is both feasible and profitable, global expansion has never been easier. An Employer of Record (EOR), such as Elements, not only allows companies to expand in more than 160 countries with the click of a mouse, it also makes the process more time and cost efficient.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
With vaccines arriving and the long winter of social distancing slowly but surely beginning to show its results, the news from governments around the world is beginning to take on a more optimistic tone. Some countries, such as China and Australia, have returned to relative normality, while others, such as the UK, have unveiled roadmaps to a fully normal summer. The US is on track to vaccinate all adults by the end of May.
For millions of people and businesses, the end of social distancing cannot come soon enough. However, looking back, companies will realize that the pandemic catalyzed what was a slow but necessary transformation in the way business is done. While it was an unexpected and bumpy ride, this change ultimately opens doors that previously weren’t within reach for many companies—particularly smaller ones—such as an expanded talent pool, a more connected workforce and the ability to expand globally more easily. There’s always a silver lining.
About Elements Global Services:
Elements Global Services is an award-winning HR technology & services company. Elements provides employment solutions in over 160 countries – covering everything from payroll, benefits, HR, local compliance to visa & mobility. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, Elements has a global network of offices and employees delivering innovative solutions to its growing customer base. Elements’ Direct Employer of Record model helps companies expand, onboard, manage & pay employees worldwide. Visit elementsgs.com or LinkedIn for more information.