Elodie De Fontenay

Insight Partner – Data & AI

  • Data Strategy
  • Data Science & Analytics
  • Data Visualisation
  • Data
  • Data Ethics

23 Jul, 2021

Five risks of getting ‘return to work’ wrong and how to avoid them

Elodie de Fontenay, Insight Partner - Data and AI at Chaucer explains why employers which aren’t effectively planning their hybrid ‘new normal’ are taking big business risks.

The hybrid model of working is here to stay. In amongst all the uncertainty that the past 18 months has brought us, this fact is something that we can be pretty certain about. A small minority of businesses have decided to become fully remote and, on the flip side, another tiny proportion are mandating in-person working. But for most of us, the hybrid model will be the new normal.

The challenge here is that there are a huge number of variables and grey areas with this approach and a number of key questions to ask. Have you developed your approach and communicated it clearly with your teams? Or are you ‘playing it by ear’? How have decisions been made?

This requires more active thought than a desk re-shuffle and social distancing. As we tentatively step into the ‘new normal’ and welcome colleagues back into physical workspaces, what are the very real organisational risks of not planning this effectively? And how can we mitigate them?

1.  Losing staff and struggling to stand out to new talent

Recent figures from Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, revealed that one in four people are planning to look for a new job once the pandemic threat has subsided. There seems to be similar feeling in the UK too.

Have you considered staff retention and attraction in your return to work plans? Do you have a good sense of employee morale? And do you need to introduce new structures to monitor this and prevent high staff turnover?

2.  Risks to health and wellbeing

We know that there is still a risk to employees’ physical health from the coronavirus itself and your organisation has decisions to make when it comes to vaccination statuses and safety protocols. Do you have policies and guidelines and are they being regularly updated?

In research conducted by CV Library 55 per cent of UK workers reported feeling anxious about returning to the office. So of course, it is vital that you understand your colleagues’ mental and emotional wellbeing needs too.

3.  Low productivity

Many employees have noticed an impact on their productivity with the permanent stretch of working from home. Some have been much more focused whilst others report struggles with the competing demands and distractions.

With this in mind, will your organisation need to introduce new systems and processes in your new hybrid model and what support will you be putting in place for employees as they negotiate the changes? How will you ensure equity and that people are included regardless of location? And will there need to be more investment this financial year?

4.  Wasted money and inefficiencies

Without effective planning, your business could face unexpected costs for everything from technology to upping employee assistance programmes and professional cleaning.

Have you reviewed your budgeting processes accordingly?

5.  Eroding your brand

This all impacts on how your organisation is perceived and spoken about both internally and externally. Have you considered the reputational side of your approach and how it impacts not just staff but customers and suppliers, too?

Avoiding these pitfalls

The key to mitigating these risks lies in data. Understanding your data and analysing the right information will unlock answers, give a true picture of the impact of your return to work plan and keep your staff safe. Planning the space, creating a culture of collaboration, creating an inclusive workplace and keeping people safe are all achievable if backed up by a data-driven approach. Using advanced, predictive and prescriptive analytics to visualise, plan and communicate will improve engagement, manage risk and build brand equity.

This is further enhanced with the ability to deliver the right data to key stakeholders across your business - from HR, learning, and development, to facilities, finance, and risk. For example, an HR director will be looking to ensure that diversity and inclusion statistics don’t decline within a hybrid model. There are widening fears that working from home might widen the gender gap with research showing that demand from females is outstripping males for home working coupled with a perceived risk that people are passed over for promotion due to reduced visibility in the office. Taking a data-led approach gives a true picture of trends and behaviours in real-time, can flag up unproductivity or welfare issues and make it much easier to plan ahead.

Will yours be a well-prepared organisation, best placed to attract and retain staff, increase competitive advantage and build brand equity? Investing in cost-effective analytics and real-time reporting will ensure that you are. You’ll be effective, supportive and resilient for the future – however it may look.

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