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The COVID-19 situation isn’t just affecting the way businesses work, it’s shaping discussions about how they will in future, too. Recent global events have affected businesses in unimaginable ways, testing them in a manner not seen in several generations. However, present circumstances have also fast-forwarded several conversations surrounding the future of work.

With the skills gap across most sectors being named as one of the biggest challenges to business leaders by Gartner, being able to offer the most attractive package to candidates is essential to put yourself in pole position.

Employers offering benefits such as remote working have long found themselves at the front of the queue when it comes to in-demand professionals deciding on their next move. But now most of the world are suddenly home-based, it’s forced a perk that was previously reserved for a minority of sectors into the mainstream.

It’s no longer just IT professionals and those higher up the chain that are able to base themselves remotely – from engineering to call centres, the global workforce are suddenly getting used to an entirely new way of carrying on their 9-5. Whether this is followed in future by more flexible hours, or offices disappearing completely, is another conversation: for now, it seems unlikely that we’ll regress entirely when it comes to home working.

The short-term impact is one of disruption, of course. Those with families are having to combine their role as a full-time employee with also being a teacher and/or responsible for childcare, too. That means longer and more testing days being away from the focused environment that an office provides, but the current situation won’t be permanent, and the desire for this benefit to remain in some capacity seems quite certain.

While our hours in a working week are still the same at present, the extra time spent at home rather than commuting allows for a far greater work-life balance. For example, exercising on a lunch break, or even being able to spend an hour with your children in the middle of the day, is an unexpected luxury that will be difficult to give up, and could lead to a demotivated workforce once they get back to being stuck in traffic or on public transport five days a week.

The Future Workforce

From talking to peers, you get the impression that anyone doing a complete about turn on where their staff are based in future will find themselves with a disengaged and unhappy workforce. Considering one recent study suggested that by 2030, the talent shortage could lead to as many as 85 million jobs going unfilled, failing to address the desire for the flexibility that employees have tasted could put you at the back of a very long line.

That means companies are going to have to look at remote working being a more permanent addition to how they operate. It no longer belongs in discussions about the future of work, it’s now about how we accommodate it going forward.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that offices will be a thing of the past: as fascinating as this enforced trial has been, there’s definitely no way we can continue indefinitely with every meeting being conducted by Skype or Zoom, with only the four walls of our homes for company. People need the interaction with their colleagues to help with mental wellbeing, and the motivation that being surrounded by your peers brings. But this is definitely going to change how we work in future.

One facet that could change beyond recognition is the potential catchment area for employees. Previously, more than an hour’s commute was enough to either force a relocation or dissuade someone from joining your organization. So, you find yourself either needing to massively sell the job, or the benefits on offer, to attract the best potential candidates.

If the outcome of this global crisis is an increase of remote working on a permanent basis, then businesses will be able to look further afield for the talent that will truly boost their business. That dream candidate who lives two hours away but doesn’t want to relocate or commute? They suddenly become more attainable if they only need to visit the office once per week.

Of course it’ll also have the benefit of potentially making our workforces more diverse. For example, having a more flexible approach to the working day may entice female professionals who’re primary carers for their children either into a new career they were previously unable to access, or simply provide more employment options.

Getting Ahead Today

As business leaders, being able to benchmark productivity right now is an essential part of whether remote working will form a part of your future. For us, we’ve actually seen an increased output across our organization, but that’s not to say it will replicated in every business or industry.

This is a turbulent period of time, but you need to know how to gauge the success of having your workforce based at home to ensure you can achieve business buy-in when it becomes optional rather than enforced.

Having the option of remote working undoubtedly makes you a more desirable employer – when we’ve surveyed tech professionals, it’s often cited as a big influencing factor into accepting a job offer. However, being able to clearly define whether this benefits you as a business is essential going forward beyond the enforced isolation period we’re experiencing at the moment.

One thing is absolutely certain: by the end of 2020, having the flexibility to work from home will become far more normal in people’s day to day lives than it was at the beginning of the year. Being on top of it so you can champion its inclusion within your own organization will put you ahead of your competitors when it comes to sourcing the best talent to fill the skills gap within your own industry.

About the Author

James Lloyd-Townshend is Chairman and CEO of cloud talent firm Tenth Revolution Group. He graduated from Newcastle University over 20 years ago, and has spent his time since then building up two decades worth of experience in the recruitment industry, attending several business schools across Europe in the process.