The home office
A new piece of research looks at the experience and expectations of young housing professionals, against a backdrop of changing employment practices in the wake of COVID-19
INNOVATION & IMPROVEMENT
Member Engagement Officer at the Northern Housing Consortium and GEM Programme (Graduate Employment Mentoring)
At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Northern Housing Consortium and the GEM Programme jointly agreed to initiate a series of action research pieces to look at the changing world of work in the UK since the pandemic began.
The Business Unusual Research Group brings together GEM Programme alumni to produce a series of bite-sized research pieces, this report being one of them.
As relatively new entrants to housing, we decided to dedicate the research to the experience of younger employees in similar positions, focusing on the issues which affect this demographic, and documenting their experience through focus group conversations.
The Business Unusual Research Group published its first report at the end of June 2021 into the changing expectations of upcoming housing professionals. It came as housing organisations amend employment practices and the report explores the related social, emotional and psychological impacts of these changes.
In summary, the report – Remote working - changing employment and psychological contracts – finds a cohort concerned with career progression and suitable working-from-home arrangements. The research uncovers almost universal support for reducing permanent office working; mixed experiences of communication around future business plans; concerns of different treatment of frontline staff who cannot work from home; and increased threats to mental health and wellbeing. Let’s look at these findings in a little more detail.
During the shift to remote working, communication emerged as a major theme. We found varying degrees of effectiveness across different organisational levels, internally and externally, professionally and personally.
Communication from executives and leaders at all levels was viewed as essential.
Participants felt that different mediums of communication used in the workplace were positive, though some reported that intranet pages or shared communication points were rarely used and seen as less relevant to performance.
The pandemic’s effect on mental health was a major concern for the participants and they stressed the importance of practical measures to ensure work does not over-extend its reach into people’s personal lives.
The loss of the social side to work has been the biggest challenge for most.
Participants cited a perception of a loss of ‘organisational collectiveness’ and, perhaps, a new division between frontline and office-based staff.
One particular area of interest was that the career progression aspirations of upcoming professionals had not been well met over the 18 months of the pandemic.
There was also a realisation that remote working means that location is no longer a boundary for future jobs.
Mobility among upcoming professionals in relation to career progression is being redefined and the challenges of retaining talented staff are likely to increase accordingly.
The report and focus group findings were shared with a roundtable of senior leaders from the housing sector, convened by the Northern Housing Consortium. The group was made up of chief executives and executive directors and offered a chance for decision-makers to reflect on the findings. They could particularly consider how their organisations had adapted to the changing world of work, with emphasis on the younger staff cohort our research was produced by.
Our findings were well received and endorsed by the leaders who attended. Many recognised the concerns and the opportunities that were highlighted by our focus groups, and it was acknowledged that each organisation had taken different measures and approaches to introducing new ways of working. The roundtable offered an opportunity for leaders to share good practice and take on board the wider sector’s response to new ways of working and the changing contracts of work as we emerge from the pandemic.
Given the challenges raised around career progression and talent retention throughout this report, the Business Unusual Research Group will be turning its attention to this issue in its next research piece.