Online-only services are predicted to leave some people behind

Partly because of the Covid pandemic lockdowns there has been a significant growth in online-only services covering everything from banking to restaurant menus.

According to a Wired article in the UK “the number of bank and building society branches fell by a third between 2012 and 2021.”

This is all very well for those who are comfortable with technology and mobile phones but there are worries that these developments will leave behind some particularly vulnerable groups in the community.

Not only this, but there are concerns, says Wired, that “the technology is often terrible”.

Having a basic broadband service and mobile internet is becoming a necessity. But what can people do if they live, say, in a rural location where the services are patchy?

Similarly, there are some groups such as pensioners or those on a low income who may not be able to afford these services, regardless of whether they are tch literate or not.

According to Wired “An estimated 2.9 billion people—37 percent of the world’s population—have never used the internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ IT agency”.

Clearly, there is a need for governments to set a basic level of service for all citizens regardless of income or access to technology.


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.


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.

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.