No going back to ‘normal’, says report

A new study of leaders, managers and employees shows that most office workers have shifted their mindset during the pandemic and don’t want a return to ‘normal’ ways of working.

Woman in red cardigan looks at laptop


There has been a permanent mindset shift about how work is organised among the UK’s formerly office-based workforce, according to a new study.

The Work After Lockdown: No Going Back – what we have learned from working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic study led by the University of Southampton and funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) considered the longer-term implications of working from home and which new working practices should remain and be encouraged.

It suggests that, while people have missed the informal connections of the office, their default position has shifted and they no longer want to be travelling into offices every day. It says that neither they nor their managers think that this is an efficient way of working and want to hold onto some of the gains from the past two years, such as improved workforce trust and better quality meetings.

The study highlights a future area of potential difficulty if organisations stop listening to staff’s different working preferences and needs. It says it is the responsibility of managers to ensure corporate strategies are accommodating hybrid and flexible working practices that suit their teams’ needs.

The research included speaking to a combination of leaders, managers and employees without management responsibilities to understand how change affects the whole organisation.

The researcher say that finding the right balance is at the heart of successful hybrid working.

The research has identified six areas organisations need to work on to help achieve success:

  • Inclusion: it says there must be parity of opportunity for those who are working from home and those who are in the office on any given day and that employers must make sure that their policies and processes for hybrid working are fair to all.
  • Job Analysis: the study says employers should analyse and group jobs into different work styles based on their time and location needs and make this information available to new recruits and current employees. Clarity about what hybrid means for each role is crucial to build trust, it states.
  • Technology: there needs to be continued investment in the right digital tools to support collaboration and communication. As a minimum, when people work in two places, they need to have easy access to IT at both locations, say the researchers.
  • Well-being: employee well-being should be a priority and should include empathetic listening so that managers can understand the diverse needs of their staff, the report says.
  • Leadership and communication: hybrid working needs a different, more inclusive style of leadership backed by communication that is personal, nuanced and planned. Organisations should keep up the frequent check-ins with staff that happened during the pandemic period, says the report.
  • Human resources management practices: it notes that induction and on-boarding of new starters has been a weak spot during the pandemic and says more needs to be done to help new joiners feel they fit in and know what’s expected of them to do their best work.

Principal investigator Dr Jane Parry, Director of the Centre for Research on Work and Organisations at Southampton Business School, says: “Our research shows that what began an accidental experiment around working from home is becoming the mass hybridisation of the workforce. Organisations are still feeling their way around this new world of work, but if they apply the lessons of lockdown and tap into the goodwill and adaptability that workers have shown during the pandemic there is the prospect of decent work for all that preserves gains around autonomy, flexibility and work-life balance, as well as enhancing those around workforce collaboration.”



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