Our recently published white paper, ‘The workforce of the future’, explores the challenges faced by employers in the new, post-Covid, normal – and, in doing so, exposes the limitations of current employment law. The paper considers what leadership lessons have been learnt and those areas that leaders must focus on in the future.

“Employers have to carefully consider whether they still wish to return to ‘business as normal’ or whether they should instead start to plan for a new normal which embraces flexible working,” says Clive Dobbin, head of the employment team at Paris Smith. “The law needs to be completely updated to give greater rights to challenge an employer’s refusal to allow homeworking.”

Alongside insight from a wide range of contributors, the paper considers the law around employees’ mental health, Zoom fatigue, the right to disconnect and flexible working. It also provides options for employers to avoid redundancies and advice about how best to remotely manage performance. And while huge numbers of the UK population have got used to working from home, neither employees nor employers seem keen to consign the office to the dustbin… so what role does the office have to play?

We’re really grateful to the contributors to this special report, which include Carnival UK (P&O Cruises & Cunard), Draper Tools, KPMG, global farming and food group Barfoots, accountants Smith & Williamson, Marwell Wildlife, TW Metals, King Edward VI School and GO! Southampton.

Our white paper covers the following:

Leadership in the new working world

Good leadership is necessary in the best of times but vital in the worst; we examine the role of leadership in this time of change and how new ways of working can support employee wellbeing and productivity. The report considers how to ensure a motivated and successful remote workforce and questions whether this is possible under current employment law.

The future of flexible working

The pandemic has upended many existing views about how and where we work. Under the national lockdown, UK businesses became part of a countrywide experiment testing mass remote working. Post-Covid, it’s likely that the efficiency and economic savings of working remotely from home will be balanced against the social and business value of working in offices. With change in the air, the report considers the law as it stands and how it needs to be updated to reflect the change in how we work.

Performance management and dealing with redundancies

With millions of people forced into a new flexible working environment, the report advises how best to manage remote workforces – and what management practices need to change. Disciplinary and grievance issues must still be dealt with, despite employees not being in the office – so how do you execute the relevant processes remotely? With many employers reviewing their workforce, the report offers a number of alternatives to redundancy.

Mental health and the workforce

With vast swathes of the population working from home, businesses can’t afford to put mental health low down the agenda. Early indications suggest that the pandemic, and measures taken by the government to control it, will have a significant impact upon the mental health of employees for months and even years ahead. The report looks at what can go wrong if businesses don’t adequately deal with mental health issues in their workforce – and how to create a supportive work environment.

The new national talent pool, the digitised workforce and skills gap

One of the unintended consequences of Covid-19 has been the creation of a new national talent pool, as employers increasingly look further afield for employees. We consider how the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, necessitating a more highly digitised workforce. Despite being the fifth most digitally advanced nation in Europe, the UK is facing a significant digital skills shortage.

The office environment, post Covid-19

Among all this change, is there still a place for the physical office? Employers need to assess whether they want to retain an office presence and if so, in what form. We debate what role the office has to play and explore its purpose; businesses should take this opportunity to reimagine what’s needed from that space. A permanent shift in working practices in the aftermath of the pandemic could further exacerbate office decline in city centres; we consider the rise of localism and community.

Dr Simon Fox, Head of Law at Solent University: “We are living through a revolution. Working practices and the law evolve through time. Covid-19 has moved such an evolution into a revolution, as we are forced to make rapid and immediate changes to how we socialise, live and work. I am concerned that there needs to be a proper consideration of people’s wellbeing and their mental health, as well as their physical health, in regard to working remotely and working from home. That leads back to the law needing to adjust and keep pace.”

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