Pandemic rings in 'dramatic' workplace changes

Major shifts in attitudes towards home working, staff recruitment and business travel as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been highlighted by a new poll.

The survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Ipsos Mori - published to coincide with the start of the CBI's online annual conference on Monday - was described as painting a "positive picture" of how businesses would operate in the wake of the global pandemic.Sponsored by Accenture and Hays Recruitment, the poll suggested there had been a profound shift in cultures and attitudes to workplaces."Offices will survive, but not as they were," said the CBI, with increasing innovation revealed to be one of the key, positive aspects arising from the pandemic.The survey found that, while 79 per cent of companies said their staff entirely or mainly worked in-office or away from home last year, only 28 per cent expected that would still be the case beyond 2021 with almost half expecting staff to split their time evenly between home and the workplace in future. Working from home was regarded by 53 per cent of respondents as being positive in terms of attracting and retaining staff, with only 14 per cent considering it negative. "But qualitative research suggests offices remain vital for collaborating and connecting with colleagues," added the CBI. On business travel, the survey found that, before the arrival of the pandemic, 88 per cent of firms reported staff regularly travelled within the UK for work, with 57 per cent recording international journeys.Beyond 2021, 65 per cent of responding businesses said that it was likely that UK travel would become unnecessary because of video conferencing, with international travel also being curtailed, but to a lesser extent.On average, businesses expected their office space to reduce by 18 per cent compared to last year, mainly because of reductions in desk-based activities and client meetings. Opinion was more evenly balanced regarding other office uses, such as collaboration with colleagues, training and team-building.The report added that remote working was not without its challenges and resulted in the ability to lead, manage and train staff being diminished.Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the CBI, said: "Despite the huge challenge of operating through the pandemic, this survey shows firms are committed to listening to employees and customers, innovating at speed to build back better. The rewards for those who get this right will be substantial, with clear benefits for both companies and individuals.“Remote working has brought huge benefits. It has not led to a collapse in productivity. Often lost travel time has disappeared, together with the stress and carbon emissions of the morning commute. Many local communities have been rediscovered.“Yet while Covid-19 may have triggered a mass migration from UK workplaces, talk of the death of the office is premature. They continue to offer real benefits, particularly for welcoming new staff, training and collaboration. So a new, flexible balance must be found - the office will survive, but not as we know it.”Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori, added: “In a few short months the pandemic has dramatically changed business life in the UK. What our latest research shows is that while parts of the economy face massive disruption, elsewhere there are likely permanent positive changes. These include less commuting, more distributed work forces, a better carbon footprint, a re-imagining of offices, and potentially better quality of life for employees.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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