In all the discussion of what work will look like — and more importantly — where it will be done in the aftermath of the pandemic, certain assumptions are emerging. In particular, it is widely accepted that work will be “hybrid”, in that some people will work remotely all the time, others will attend a central location some of the time (two or three days perhaps) and still others might carry on pretty much as before. The understanding is that which category an individual falls into will depend largely on the type of work they do with possibly some accommodation of what they like to do (whether they are an introvert with the self-motivation to get things done on their own, say, or a more extroverted person who works better when surrounded by like-minded folks). But, as a new report from Forrester, the technology-focused market research company, points out, a lot will also depend upon where in the world somebody is based.
In particular, the study, A European Perspective On The Future Of Work For 2021, emphasizes that — because of the slow vaccination roll-out relative to those in the U.S. and the U.K. and continuing surges in the virus — mainland Europe will open up more slowly, with employees returning to their offices later than those in Asia, the U.S. and the U.K.. This will naturally have a detrimental effect on the economies of those countries — with growth significantly slower than that in the U.S. and in China — and on the prospects for companies operating there.
And even within Europe there will be differences. As the world seeks to return to something like normal, some European governments are seeking to place limits on working from home, with, for example, plans for rules on how long employees can remain online without a break and, in some cases, requirements for employers to provide appropriate workstations to enable home working. Then there are the tax implications of allowing employees to “work anywhere.” If an individual working for a French company is based on a Greek island, for instance, which tax regime applies?
Having said this, the Forrester team stresses that companies need to examine how the world has changed form the point of view of their customers and clients and be prepared to seize opportunities that might appear in this new landscape. This will inevitably involve at least contemplating a return to business travel. However, companies need to realize that it will be complicated by — not just the differing and no doubt complex rules that different countries will adopt in relation to overseas visitors — but also individual employees’ willingness to travel. Different people can be expected to have different attitudes to risk, particularly if they have health concerns of their own or are living with vulnerable people.
Taking account of these worries will be a fundamental part of managers’ jobs in the months and years ahead as they seek to create employee experiences that enable them to attract and retain the people they need. Indeed, the Forrester analysts remark that employee listening and demonstrating trust will be key attributes for leaders as organisations set themselves up for life after the pandemic.
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Enza Iannopollo, a senior analyst at Forrester and one of the authors of the report, said: “While most of us are eager to resume “life-as-usual” after a year of health and financial concerns and isolation, this is not a good time for businesses to rush decisions. On the contrary, employers in the U.K. and across the E.U. must design empathy-rich and risk-aware strategies to bring back employees and customers to the shop floor, the office, or wherever it is they operate. Companies that operate at a pan-European level should never undermine the fact that across Europe regulations vary, culture varies, the progression of vaccination varies. Any E.U. future of work strategy that doesn’t account for this complexity is set for failure.”
And, as the report itself points out, future lockdowns cannot entirely be ruled out, so businesses should not be looking to decide on a definitive policy for work. “Business leaders should instead maintain flexible remote working policies and the technology infrastructure to support a shift to remote work at short notice,” it says. “This will boost the employee experience by giving employees the flexibility to manage not only their work life but also personal challenges like home schooling and childcare.”