The future of work and business in a post-lockdown world: who will the winners be?

Thursday, 25th June 2020

The first in a new series of monthly blogs by members of our future-pro committee comes from Duane Cormell, Director at Realm Recruit, who reflects on the recent future-pro roundtable webinar and the future of work and business…


While the government has announced further relaxation of lockdown measures and the re-opening up of pubs, restaurants and cinemas, unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll all return to the office and pre-COVID ways of working anytime soon.

This is not only because we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic, but because of the way in which the attitudes and priorities of both employees and employers have changed over the last 3-4 months.

Earlier this week, I was invited to sit on a panel for a future-pro pro-manchester webinar entitled: The Future of Work and Business in a Post-lockdown World.

Chaired by Laura Guillon, a Senior Associate at Hall Brown, I joined pro-manchester’s Chief Executive, Sam Booth, and Ross Markham, a Consultant at Deloitte on the panel, to discuss how people’s expectations of work have changed as a result of COVID-19 and how businesses might adapt in response to these changes.

The full discussion is now available on the pro-manchester YouTube channel, however, the key topics we discussed are summarised below.

Employee priorities and the demand for flexibility

At Realm, we recently conducted a survey of lawyers and law firms, which found that the pandemic had undoubtedly affected their priorities at work. The results showed that while a good salary and progression prospects remain important, there is now an irresistible and almost insatiable demand for greater flexibility. Over the last three months, we’ve all realised that having a good work-life balance is crucial.

Employers will need to be agile at every opportunity, not only in terms of offering flexible working arrangements to their teams but also in terms of learning and development to support and facilitate a more flexible career path.

In addition, in the short-term, employees will welcome a safe and strategic return to work plan along with sufficient PPE and hygiene measures.

Implementing flexibility to improve attraction and retention

Even before COVID-19, many employers were having to facilitate greater flexibility demanded by employees. This is especially true in cases where there was a skills shortage in a particular location, for example, and the only option was for staff to work remotely. However, COVID has as good as made a fallacy of the belief that employees need to be physically located in one place and it’s likely that changes will be made.

While there’s certainly been a demand for change from employees over the last 3 months, it’s unlikely they’ll be driving the key decisions. There will continue to be a need for strong leadership, direction and communication from employers.

Mental health and wellbeing

For the last few years, mental health and wellbeing at work have been hot topics of conversation. Another key finding from Realm’s COVID-19 survey was that wellbeing and mental health has never been so important.

As many of us continue to work from home for at least some of the time post-pandemic, employers might find it more difficult to safeguard the mental health of their staff. Because we are remote and distanced from our each other rather than working side-by-side in an office, employers need to work harder to pick up signs of poor mental health.

Open communication and regular contact is key in order to foster a safe and supportive environment. Equally, a director or CEO who is open about his or her own struggles may help to empower their employees to speak up if they are finding things difficult.

The importance of good communication

Luckily we have a plethora of video conferencing and messaging tools at our disposal, so it’s never been easier to keep in touch. Over the last few months while we have been working remotely, most businesses have used Zoom or Teams as a substitute for face-to-face contact and meetings.

However, it’s important for team leaders recognise that individuals might prefer certain channels of communication to others, for example, a phone call or WhatsApp conversation instead of a video call.

Learning and development

It’s an especially strange time for those who have started new jobs since the end of March. Not only are they yet to meet their colleagues face-to-face, but they are also unable to learn the ropes by shadow members of their team in the office.

Remote working has raised concerns about whether employees will suffer in terms of training and developing new skills. Most businesses already have e-learning resources of some kind at their disposal and video calls between members of the team are also useful. However, it’s important that senior team members set realistic expectations for staff; if they are training remotely, they might be unlikely to achieve the same results as quickly as they would do ordinarily and managers should reassure employees that this is okay.

Company culture

As company culture is something that develops by virtue of a team or organisation being together and interacting with one another, when a workforce is operating remotely, there are likely to be difficulties in maintaining that culture. For some businesses that have closed their offices entirely in the wake of the pandemic, this is likely to be even harder.

As mentioned earlier, employers should make the most of the tools they have, such as video calls to maintain communication within teams and sub-teams. It’s also a good idea to give staff the option to join more informal activities that you would do ordinarily with your team, such as having a drink together on a Friday to boost morale and stay connected.

It’s also important that managers work to understand what motivates their employees on an emotional level. Doing so will mean that they can lean on the things that are most important to individuals and help to maintain the collective culture.

Automation and redundancy

Sadly, some businesses have been forced to make redundancies as a result of the pandemic and many employees are concerned about their job security. While some roles have become redundant, in some respects, the current situation might bring about new and exciting opportunities. As businesses pivot and adapt, there are opportunities for employees to reset and develop their skills. Employers should be transparent about the future of their business and how it is likely to evolve post-pandemic so that employees are aware of how they might be able to contribute to its success.

Going forward

It is unclear what the future of work will look like. However, the general consensus amongst the panel was that it is the businesses who are trusted by their employees and able to adapt that will have workforces who are happier, better engaged and more productive.

As the pandemic has illustrated, we are now in a world where we can be more adaptive. Businesses are able to create a working environment and culture that suits their needs to enable them to attract the best talent. It is those organisations that follow through and do so who will come out on top going forward.

Want to learn more?

In April, Realm launched a survey of lawyers and law firms to better understand what changes lie ahead post-COVID-19 and what these changes will mean for employee engagement, attraction and retention.

If you would like to read the full report of our survey findings, you can do so by downloading it here.