What does 2021 and beyond hold in store for the way we do business?

COVID-19 really has forced businesses and their people to reexamine the way things were done, and the way things will be done in the not so distant future. Both parties will be looking at how they can adapt in tandem, whilst ensuring nothing of value gets left behind in the ‘old world’. In this new world the basics will surely be the same, but one thing is clear; businesses large and small will not be making a full return to the way things used to be.

We’ve coined many tiresome terms to describe the situation we find ourselves in over the past 6-8 months, with even more emerging daily – we’re living in unprecedented times, don’t you know? The world is preparing for the great reset too, it’s all part of the new normal. 2020 saw perhaps the most annoying slogan of all time – catch it, bin it, kill it. Sorry, we mean stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.

We’ve written this blog to assure senior leaders that this new normal will vary widely from one company to the next, up and down all variety of verticals, AND between the public and private sectors. There’s no one size fits all approach; what works for one business, might not work for another. What one employee feels comfortable with, might not feel so comfortable for a peer.

We think that we’ll actually see a range of ‘new normals’ which reflect the market in which individual businesses operate. Of course we won’t see changes happen overnight – any revisions will be led by the powers that be whose job it is to amend economic, social and public health policy – as the pandemic fallout continues to unfold before our eyes.

Will we ever shake hands again?

How difficult has it been to ignore thousands of years of social convention and avoid shaking hands? Greeting with a handshake has probably been one of the hardest customs to leave behind in the business world, but we’ve seen plenty of alternatives suggested. The humble handshake has a number of different applications from the ordinary to the formidable – we use it to greet strangers and friends, and we also use it to close astronomical business deals.

Could we perhaps see the handshake disappearing entirely from everyday life? We’ve seen calls for a dignified and very practical bow to replace the widely considered to be unhygienic handshake. As human-beings we crave touch, a symbol of how deeply humans have socially evolved, so it stands to reason that we’ve employed the elbow bump as an alternative to shaking hands – we really weren’t ready to lose that human interaction just yet.

We think the new normal will see plenty of people changing the way they greet people and seal deals. Pureprofile spoke to over 500 of their members in April 2020 and 40% of respondents said they would avoid handshakes when greeting people, when back in the office, and in their personal lives. But what does that mean for the other 60% of us?

There is a concern that as we develop this new normal that is devoid of touch, we might not not realise what we’re missing by not having any tactile contact with the people in our network. We’re so used to touching each other’s bodies (as bizarre as that sounds), despite not really realising how much we now rely on this kind of interaction. More sanitary social conventions like fist-bumps and elbow taps probably won’t cut the mustard when it comes to maintaining human connectivity.

There’s obviously the finer details to iron out, and compromises to be made between parties. Interviews and sales pitches in 2021 stand to look very different, that much is certain..

Mass-scale remote working, with no fixed office abode

We’re pretty sure now that mass-scale remote working is here to stay. Businesses have realised pretty quickly that most operations large and small can function remotely – and their staff have been through the ultimate test after having been thrown in at the deep end.

We’ve seen plenty of organisations giving staff the option of working from home permanently, should they want to. Even staff who have a manufacturing based job role will have more options to work from home in the future. It seems businesses really are seeing the light and adhering to the research that shows remote working can potentially result in productivity boosts and a happier workforce. There’s also the added bonus of flexibility and cost-savings from commuting for many employees and, thinking of the wider landscape, a real positive impact on our carbon footprint.

If we talk about the benefits of remote working, so we would be remiss not to mention the drawbacks of it. We may well see a rise in mental health problems such as depression – perpetuated by isolation and loneliness at home – that’s why it’s always important to check in on those who we know live more solitary lives, and depend on the interaction of the workplace. We’ve not long seen the swathes of think-pieces related to “”work/life balance””, and remote working really has the potential to blur the lines between our personal life and work life. Are we really capable of switching off by just closing the laptop lid? Perhaps we’ve always needed something more symbolic, like a commute home or locking up the office to trigger our brain to depart work mode and arrive at personal life mode. We really don’t want to see our highly productive employees suffering from stress and even burnout. We must find that balance in 2021.

We no longer have an office here at ecruit. Ben de Grouchy, our founder said:

“”When I looked at what the business spent on overheads compared to what we missed by working from home (not a great deal, by the way), it was a no-brainer to lose the office. We don’t manufacture anything and we don’t deal with finished goods – what we do concerns transactions, people and relationships. All of those things can be maintained from the comfort of our home!””

We’re pretty sure we’ll see fewer people working from traditional corporate offices in the future, and we’ll surely see many other businesses plumping for no fixed abode. But will they fully disappear? Let’s wait and see.

An increase in sick days

The simple answer is yes. The workplace is usually riddled with those typical winter coughs and colds, spring allergies and all-year-round bugs, but it’s looking likely that we’ll see less of that going forward. Not less of the actual illnesses, but less of the symptoms in the workplace.

According to PureProfie, 45% of people surveyed said that they’d be more inclined to call in sick than to come into work with more traditional minor ailments. Previously, people might have battled through a week of cold, but it’s now looking likely that staff will take the time to rest at home, rather than risk bringing their contagious germs into the workplace to infect others. Rightly or wrongly, businesses won’t thank staff for this. It’s impossible for senior leaders to know if staff are genuinely sick, or if they’re simply hungover from a weekend away win for their local team. Either way, business will suffer.

Picture this, the phone rings and it’s Tracy from Accounts. She’s got the chills and whilst she feels well enough to work, she doesn’t want to potentially spread anything throughout the office. So, do you ask her to work from home? What if she’s coming down with something more serious? Is it ethical to ask her to continue to work from home, if she can? Will she thank you for it? What will HR say? It’s a minefield. Businesses will need to tread carefully to ensure employees take the time they need, but that growth continues to occur. Ultimately, surviving on lower staff numbers over longer periods of time, all whilst maintaining the same levels of growth the business has become accustomed to.

We have to consider how changes to working environments and practices will impact organisational cultures. HR departments and the wider business will need to monitor the behaviour of staff and how things are done in the organisation. In 2021, they’ll need to hold a regular finger to the pulse of the organisation, closely observing the DNA and core values of the staff and the business in which they work.

We look forward to seeing what 2021 has in store for us!

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