Organisation Development, Culture and Change

Research: The Realities of the New Working Environment

  • May 5, 2022

On 31 December 2019, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) was first informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, China, who would have guessed this would result in one of the greatest pandemics the world has known, reaching into every corner of the planet? Not only did the pandemic instigate a global health crisis, it also led to major economic and operational disruption across the globe as entire economies shut down and companies were forced to operate in wide-ranging and lengthy lockdowns. The pandemic compressed several years’ worth of change to working practices into a matter of months.

Now, as the ‘new world of work’ moves from being a future issue to being the present for businesses, we have an opportunity to take stock of how organisations and HR functions responded to the crisis, how that is driving working practices longer-term, the choices organisations are faced with as the pandemic recedes, and what questions remain to be resolved.

Underpinning this work is the reflection that, in the early stages of the pandemic, employers had few choices. They had to observe lockdowns and obey stay-at-home orders. They had to reconfigure supply chains. They had to choose whether to furlough employees. The ways of working that were adopted in short order in spring 2020 were born of necessity. Now the pandemic is drawing to a close, we have the opportunity to evaluate what happened and the outcomes achieved, and to make deliberate choices around which elements to retain for the future, which to discard and which to adapt for the emerging reality of work.

In this report, sponsored by Bird & Bird, BTS and Mercer, we reflect on the following:

  • Remote or hybrid working is feasible and can be achieved apparently without impacting productivity. However, the longer-term consequences of remote working in terms of performance, productivity, collaboration, learning, organisation culture and innovation have yet to be evaluated.
  • Remote and hybrid working have forced employers to be much more flexible in their approach to people policies. And has led to a major shift in towards people-centric policies, in particular with regard to employee health and wellbeing.
  • One of the biggest workforce transformations is the impact of technology in enabling new working practices.
  • Fairness between employee groups who can work remotely and those whose work requires them to be onsite is an issue of concern to many employers, who are having to find creative ways of listening to employee views and adapt their employee value propositions to meet the needs of different workforce groups.

This report is not designed to be a comprehensive recap of everything that happened during the pandemic. Rather, it is an assessment of where we are two years on, and the choices we have going forward. We recognise that organisations are still in a state of flux, with many practices still bedding in and many issues still unresolved. Our intention is that this report provides a framework for thinking through where your organisation is today and where it needs to go next in terms of evolving its post-pandemic people practices.

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