The pandemic has accelerated workplace trends, that were already emerging, at breakneck speed.
"The shift towards remote working was already happening pre-pandemic, certainly in the hi-tech multinational environment. However, the transformation that has occurred in the last year has been nothing short of remarkable," says Siobhán Gantly, chief human resources officer at global content solutions provider Vistatec.
It is, she says, unrealistic to think that the clock can now be rewound. “The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work forever,” she says.
In the future, how we work will increasingly depend on how we want to work, she suggests.
“We conduct regular surveys to ensure we are capturing the current attitudes of our people and have learned that full-time working from home is not ideal for everyone. Some people want access to an office to gather, collaborate, and socialise. It is essential to have a place to make personal connections and build relationships. Isolation can have an impact on health and wellness, and that’s a big problem,” she says.
Vistatec employs many young people from overseas who come to Ireland "hoping to have access to the social network an office can offer. To remove this would harm our ability to attract talent," she says.
“On the other hand, you have mortgage-paying daily commuters who had been deprived of personal time and enduring the cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat. This group is not willing to give back the time and money accumulated by working from home.”
There is no one size fits all, and this makes it more complex to find a solution
She understands this too. “Parents shouldn’t have to choose between morning or evening to see their children each day. It’s only now we can see how bad the daily grind of city working and commuting was. People have a little more time for themselves, and we think that’s a good thing.”
It’s a nuanced approach reflected at contingent workforce management specialist CXC. “The future of work post-Covid looks part exciting and potentially problematic,” says Conor Lavelle, its marketing co-ordinator.
“Remote work or hybrid remote work will continue to grow. It will become a table stake for existing employees and an attraction strategy for employers. However, as the trend for remote work continues, particularly internationally, the risks of employment law, taxation issues and permanent establishment risks will increase. Companies will need to put risk mitigation strategies in place to balance and reduce those risks while still remaining an employer of choice,” he cautions.
The war for talent has already begun, he says. “Many large global enterprises are struggling to hire in their major markets and non-core markets. We will see a huge uptick in organisations hiring remote workers internationally and likely see salary inflation in previously cheaper labour markets.”
The world of work as we knew it has changed, agrees Chris Collins, country president for Schneider Electric Ireland, an energy management and automation specialist.
“The ‘future of work’ is very much in the here and now. Covid accelerated the digital trend exponentially as businesses have had to adapt – in some cases overnight – and endure the many challenges that came with a socially distanced workforce. Fast forward a year and a half, and businesses have learned to embrace digital and use it to benefit the company,” says Collins.
However, this doesn’t just affect people, but buildings, which will need to become more “intelligent” to support this.
“We know that buildings account for 40 per cent global of Co2 emissions, and so to combat climate change, businesses must take a closer look at the buildings in which they operate. Integrated building systems combined with cloud-based analytics will contribute and support hybrid working policies while also considering climate action,” he says.
But the future has a way of outfoxing predictions. It's only a couple of years ago that Jeff Greene, employment and benefits partner at corporate law firm William Fry, was being interviewed on the topic of the future of work and, because it was pre-pandemic, all the talk was about technology and how it would likely lead to the loss of jobs, with artificial intelligence the particular "buzz word".
“Fast forward a couple of years and the focus is on remote and hybrid working and yes, technology is part of it, but now mostly in relation to things like Zoom and Slack and other communications tools so that people can communicate and work remotely. So yes, the future of work is remote and hybrid but nothing is decided yet or set in stone,” he cautions.
Just one year ago remote working was said to be attractive to younger people, and off-putting to older workers, he says.
“Now we are hearing that in fact a number of older workers are thriving with remote work – enjoying more time with families and less time commuting – while, our clients are saying, younger people, especially in jobs where they need to learn from team members, are struggling a bit,” he says.
Only one thing is sure therefore, suggests Greene; “We can’t rely on cliches.”
Siobhán Gantly Vistatec feels similarly: “There is no one size fits all, and this makes it more complex to find a solution.”
Vistatec will take a flexible hybrid approach and continue to adapt to changing needs as they arise. “We expect some challenges in getting people together on the same days, but we trust that, when needed, people will deliver,” she says.
“My advice to any business planning for the future is to listen to their people before making any decisions.”