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Supporting employers and employees in a post-COVID world

29 July: As we come to terms with the after-effects of the pandemic, continuing to support employees will be a priority for employers. But what does this mean?

“We have seen the biggest trial in homeworking ever seen in the UK,” points out Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD). “Employers are anticipating a lot more homeworking. In fact, our research suggests the number of staff working from home in the future is expected to double in comparison to pre-pandemic levels.”

True, we now know what is possible on the homeworking front. However, what is possible has been demonstrated in far from normal circumstances. Back in March, many of us cobbled together setups from old laptops, makeshift desks and sketchy wifi, and made lots of tea as we negotiated a workspace in which we could be productive. Over time, hopefully things have improved.

While many of us have happily shifted out of offices to kitchen tables, sheds and back bedrooms to pursue business as usual, for some, the pandemic has meant bereavement, new caring responsibilities and economic pressures. There is a lot more to consider than the best-case scenario.

Truly testing home working for the long term will require a more even keel, but we have most definitely learned real lessons about what is possible in a matter of months, and the shift towards more domestic working environments is going to be significant.

Broader issues

But the response to COVID is not just about homeworking, insists McCartney, pointing out that home has not proved to be a safe space for everyone. It is also about broader issues, including putting employee health and wellbeing front and centre, supporting a range of flexible working options for all employees which will also benefit those with caring and childcare responsibilities. She says the CIPD supports day-one rights to flexible working – a state of affairs many families would welcome under any circumstances.

Flexible working could help employees to balance work with home-schooling, childcare, eldercare, personal and professional development and other pursuits. But where does all this leave the employer? 

“Employers need to work with employees to find flexible and creative responses to employees’ needs,” says McCartney. “This means proper conversations about flexible hours, flexible start and finish times, and ongoing supportive dialogue.”

She is adamant that the future of working should deliver a culture of flexible working for all – nothing gender or age-specific. The benefits go way beyond the obvious day-to-day improvements in work-life balance.

“Flexible working helps organisations recruit and retain diverse staff. It also helps organisations be more responsive such as extending customer services hours and helps with agility, and that is vital coming out of the pandemic and the economic downturn,” she says.

Until the COVID homeworking trial, sceptics promoted negative assumptions associated with lack of productivity around home working and flexible working. The experience of working from home in the pandemic has largely debunked those myths.

“Many jobs can be judged on output,” McCartney says. “In the knowledge industry, for example, this is easy to assess. However, line managers should be trained around setting clear objectives for people to work to and supporting teams virtually. Health and wellbeing in the workplace is another focus for training as homeworkers tend to work longer hours.”

SMEs, in particular, will need support if working practices shift in the way we think they will as recovery takes hold. “SMEs are the backbone of the economy,” says McCartney. “Often SMEs don’t have a very significant human resources function. They will need good people management principles in place. This includes constant communication, assurance and inclusion. People need to feel part of the organisation.”

In terms of CIPD’s efforts, she says: “We are trying to provide the best guidance and service we can for our members. This has meant the latest information delivered at pace. We have needed to provide a rapid response to our members through our coronavirus hub, FAQs and weekly webinars to help improve work and working lives more broadly.”

Claire McCartney is the Senior Resourcing and Inclusion Policy Adviser at the CIPD. She specialises in the areas of diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also researched compassionate bereavement, age diversity and workplace carers and has worked on several international projects. 

Employment rights and childcare-related concerns webinar will take place at 11am on 5 August 2020. Topics covered include:

  • Employees/parents: what are your options and legal rights?
  • Employers/management teams: what are your duties and how can you best support your staff?

Speakers: Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion, CIPD and Sybille Raphael, Head of Legal Advice Services, Working Families.

Book your place by clicking here.

You may also be interested in ICAEW’s Career Breakers and Women in Finance Communities, both are free to join.