Background: the great migration

The Coronavirus pandemic precipitated possibly the biggest single change in the working lives of millions of people, virtually overnight, as offices emptied and workers had to set up shop at home.

Companies embarked on organisational overhauls that would normally have taken months if not years, but had to be completed in days. New IT systems were set up instantaneously and the workers of the world got used to telling their bosses that they were “on mute”.

For many organisations, the pandemic has been a catalyst to what was happening already. The transition to agile working, for instance, was already well under way for some, while others were still further back in the process.

Home working here to stay

And while the great migration to working from home full time is one that took place because of an unforeseen emergency, it also looks like it might be here to stay long term for many of us. Research by Legal & General and think tank Demos found that nearly two thirds of the UK’s working population were forced to change their place of work because of the pandemic. But perhaps even more tellingly, 79% said they would like to continue some form of remote working in the future.

Such a shift towards home working – or at least non-office working – would represent a seismic change for most organisations, as well as a huge challenge for those charged with overseeing it. That’s because home working not only changes the location of work, it changes the way we work too. And in turn, it changes what workers require and demand from their employers.

Organisations will face the challenge of maintaining a culturally and organisationally cohesive workforce whith some (formerly mainly office-based) staff working on a hybrid basis and some – given the nature of their jobs – continuing to work at the business’s premises or otherwise on the road.

Organisations are going to have to ask very different questions and understand in more granular detail what their employee needs and circumstances are to facilitate a new agreement for how and where they want to work.

Need for new leadership skills

Leaders and anyone working in the ‘people’ function of organisations will have to interact with employees in a different way. They will have to develop new skills and competencies, learn to expect different outcomes, and adapt how they think about the employee value proposition. Pay, reward, recruitment and retention will all feel the effect of this new contract between employer and employee – and the leaders of the future will have to be alive to the negative changes that might accrue, just as much as the things that might change for the better.

Inevitably, when the pace of change is such as it has been over the past year, there are missteps along the way. But which of the changes that have taken place over the last year are here to stay? And what do organisations have to do to make sure they are in a position to benefit from them? This report will shine a light on these key issues and help leaders start to think about what comes next.