Covid restrictions may have gone but the pandemic has not

Covid restrictions may have gone but the pandemic itself has not

The pressure on businesses is considerable as a result of the pandemic, supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine.

It has all meant rising costs and on top of that a shortage of employees to recruit.

So it is more than ever important to try to keep existing skilled staff.

One issue that may be affecting your business is the ongoing pandemic, where people are being advised to isolate for five days if they test positive.

But now that the rules on state-funded sick pay have returned to normal, this means that many will now only get two days’ sick pay as it only kicks in after three days.

While most businesses will undoubtedly still be doing everything they can to keep staff safe, they will still be faced with some off sick while the virus is still circulating.

Perhaps it is worth considering introducing some short-term financial help if your company does not have its own sick pay scheme?

Of course, all businesses are struggling with cost pressures but introducing something like this could signal to your employees that they are valued and that you understand their difficulties and may help you retain them.


Back to the office or flexible working?

Back to the office or flexible working?

With the end to some of the Covid restrictions imminent many people who have been happily and productively working from home have been called back to their offices.

This is despite the fact that it has been proven that people could work responsibly—and often more efficiently—from home.

However, an analysis by Wired, has suggested that in the UK the legislation needed to protect employees in newer employment models such as hybrid and remote working is much in need of an update.

The article highlights some of the issues.

It says: “Currently, after 26 weeks of service with their employer, every employee has the right to make one flexible working request a year. Once a request has been made, if it’s rejected, the employee must wait a year before submitting a new request”.

It cites evidence that as many as 42% of working mothers, for example, are afraid of even requesting flexible working either because the request would be rejected or because they think it would adversely affect their employment chances.

“The majority (86 percent) have faced discrimination and disadvantage because of their flexible working arrangements.” It says.

There are currently eight grounds on which employers can reject requests for flexible working, most of them, according to the TUC, are too wide and too vague.

Then there are the problems with finding affordable childcare, which may effectively deter people from even taking a job.

These are just a few of the issues that need addressing by government if the newer flexible working arrangements are going to be workable.


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Why is the paperless society not yet a reality?

The use of the PC, cloud storage and other technological innovations has led many to predict that the future of the office and of society would be paperless.

Yet 40 years since the term was first coined this is still some way off.

There are many possible explanations for this.

Often people, perhaps rightly, do not trust technology and prefer a physical record or letter rather than an email which could be mis-directed or lost, a problem if it contains sensitive information.

For some, the increasing use of hacking and phishing scams suggests that many IT systems are still not sufficiently secure for the storage of sensitive data.

Similarly, if a system crashes many of us still feel safer if we can resort to a physical record of any important documents even if we have been careful to back up anything important externally.

In some cases, there are legal reasons for keeping physical documents, especially when they refer to sensitive health or personal information needed by various agencies, but also in business where there can be legal requirements for keeping documents for specified a minimum amount of time.

Nevertheless, as concerns about the environment and climate increase we are likely to see ever more pressure to minimise our use of paper and save trees.

On the other hand, it has been calculated that technology, accounts for a whopping 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, very close to the amount produced by the airline industry.

Also, there is no denying that hardware and software can be cruelly expensive for new companies or individuals especially in developing parts of the world.

Scientists have also researched our ability to retain information based on the format by which it is delivered and here, again, it has been found that we remember far more information that we have read in printed form rather than on screen.

It seems, the move to a paperless society is a lot more complex than we think.


Avoid Staff Burnout!

Arguably a business’ employees are its greatest asset.

This has been recognised recently by companies like Bumble, Hootsuite, and Mozilla who have reportedly shut down for a week to give their staff a break.

The argument is that ensuring everybody has a week off at the same time means they won’t be returning to a flood of emails and work to catch up on as they would if only some were given time off while others continued working.

The last 18 months have been a stressful time for everyone with employees struggling to maintain productivity in the face of lockdowns, staff shortages, supply chain issues, remote working to name just a few.

Given that the availability of staff is predicted to be a continuing problem post-Brexit, therefore, it makes sense for employers to take care of those they have, to value them and to show it.

Protecting their physical and mental health and helping them to have a healthy work-life balance could make the difference between losing staff and keeping them.

There are other suggestions for ensuring staff are healthy and able to perform in this article.


How important has remote working become to you?

There have been reports that some people who started to work remotely from home during pandemic lockdowns want to continue to do so rather than return to the tedious commute to the office.

Some people are even saying that they would rather lose their jobs than be forced to return to the office.

They cite the improvement in work-life balance that had resulted from not having to commute and the flexibility and more time they have had with their families or on their hobbies.

Several large organisations, such as Facebook, J P Morgan and Google have already either delayed returns to office-based working or given employees the option of remaining remotely.

Others are offering what is called a hybrid solution, where people can spend some of their time working remotely and may only be required to come into the office for certain meetings or for a couple of days each week.

One UK-based recruitment and job search organisation has reported a 40% increase in searches for roles that offer remote options.

It may be that the current difficulties employers are having in recruiting suitably qualified people means that quitting a job where the employer is refusing to allow remote working is less risky than it might otherwise be.

Would you be prepared to leave your job if your employer cancelled all remote working?


The evolution of office perks

During the pandemic, many businesses had to get used to their employees working from home.

As restrictions have loosened, however, the hybrid and work from home models look set to remain.

This means that the “traditional” perks from free meals to break-out spaces to yoga classes offered within the office may no longer make sense.

While the more mainstream benefits such as generous pension packages or healthcare may remain, there is likely to be a radical evolution in the non-office-based perks.

Some businesses have started to offer contributions towards home offices, mobile phones or broadband while others have started to introduce mental and physical wellbeing perks remotely.

Some, including Google and Revolut, have introduced extra days off as “reset days”.

They are recognising that it is a lot harder for people in the business to switch off when they’re working from home because they can’t disconnect.


In an era of remote working is it time to revise our working practices?

It has been clear for some time that many people forced to work remotely because of the pandemic have found that they prefer this and are reluctant to return to the office.

Employers, too, have realised that it not only reduces overheads but that it does not lead to a reduction in productivity.

But many people even working remotely have stuck to the traditional 9-5 pattern and now researchers at the leading business research and advisory company, Gartner, have looked at this way of working and are concluding that it is causing significant damage to employees, particularly causing an increase in fatigue.

They argue that “In today’s context, office-centric work is a square peg and the remote environment is a round hole.”

The formalised working day based on office hours, they argue, was established in the 1920s and is “unsuitable for the remote environment where we do not have concrete signals to start or end our workday”.

It also questions the need for meetings as the best way to collaborate, much of it no longer necessary, it argues, in an age of email, instant messaging and shared drives.

The researchers’ findings are to some extent supported by another piece of research reported by Wired which described various experiments based on the Scandinavian model.

While productivity improved among those businesses that tried a shorter, five-hour day, there were some downsides, generally in the area of losing something on the relationship level, in team culture and loyalty.


Google Changes To Cookies And The Implications For Advertising

From 2022 Google has announced that it will be ditching third-party cookies from its Chrome browser.

The move will make it harder for advertisers to track the online activity of people browsing different websites.

But according to Wired “Critics and regulators argue the move risks putting smaller advertising firms out of business and could harm websites that rely on adverts to make money.”

“They’re going to get rid of the infrastructure that allows individualised tracking and profiling on the web,” says Bennett Cyphers, a technologist at civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They’re going to replace it with something that still allows targeted advertising – just doing it a different way.”

While the move may mean that site visitors will see fewer annoying repeat ads, for example for products they may have checked weeks earlier, it is also argued that the move puts even more power in Google’s hands.

Google’s plan is to target ads against people’s general interests using an AI system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). It will use your browsing history to identify interests and put you in certain groups.

While this may mean less personal data being sent to third-party trackers, it also has implications for advertisers, who may turn to other platforms, like Facebook.

The UK’s CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) has also suggested that as a result “online publishers, such as news websites that rely on advertising, could see short-term revenue from ads decrease by 70 per cent”.

But the danger is that Google’s move may concentrate power in fewer, and bigger, hands.

See more here:

Working from home

What about the environment when business gets back to normal?

The Covid pandemic and various lockdowns have precipitated an economic downturn from which it will take some time for businesses to recover.

However, it is a perfect opportunity for businesses to incorporate more energy efficient ways of doing things.

This may well also save them both time and money.

It is already clear that many businesses have realised they can function perfectly well with most of their staff working from home.  This has been predicted to continue and will result in savings on overheads such as office rent, energy bills and at the same time a reduced carbon footprint as fewer people need to commute to work each day.

Of course, they will need to invest more in IT to ensure their remote-working staff are able to operate in a secure IT environment, perhaps with access to an intranet and with clear training, guidance and protocols on confidentiality, levels of authority to access to different parts of the business and so on.

It may also be that the new “normal” will see an upsurge in the use of AI for routine processes that do not need to be carried out by humans, and a level of investment in training to ensure that people are competent to manage any new AI installed.