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One year on: How coronavirus has changed Sutton workplaces

The disruption of furlough, redundancy and remote working has taken a toll. However, strides forward made in managing remote working will unlock cost savings, work/life balance and environmental gains. There’s also a new opportunity to redress the gender pay gap as flexible working makes workplaces more accessible to working mothers.

One year into this global pandemic, and everything has changed. Workplaces are no exception. Indeed, many people no longer attend their traditional workplace, be that because they are furloughed, remote working or have sadly been made redundant. And for those that still do attend, it often looks and feels very different. Helen Colechin from The HR Dept South London based in Sutton assesses some of the changes with an optimistic nod to the future.

Helen begins: “Of course furlough and redundancy have taken work away from millions of people over the course of this pandemic. Although difficult for many, the expectation is that when we eventually come out the other side, jobs will return. For the majority who are still working, things have felt very different.

 “Remote working for many has been an eye-opener: the crash course in technology for both employees and employers as home workstations were set up and people navigated the features and etiquette of video calling, some more successfully than others.

 “For many organisations this has broken down the barriers to flexible working, and they will allow it permanently. Some may even switch to a complete remote working model. The environment will benefit from this, as it has done in 2020, and there will be cost savings; but there are many issues to consider: from health and safety to company culture to data security and more. Businesses which can manage flexible working well are destined to thrive.

 “With the gender pay gap already stubbornly persistent, women fared badly at the start of the pandemic to exacerbate it. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in mid-2020 found that working mothers were 14% more likely to have been furloughed than fathers. They were also 47% more likely to have permanently lost their job or resigned.

 “However, in the longer term a flexible working approach may make the workplace more accessible for mothers seeking a return to work. Following best HR practice to build this into your hiring processes will reap dividends through widening your talent pool. The hope is it will also contribute to closing the gender pay gap.

 “Of course, not everyone has been banished from their normal workplace. NHS staff have been doing a wonderful job on the frontline, but the term keyworker goes way beyond healthcare. The nation has a newfound appreciation of shop workers, electricians, wastewater engineers, delivery drivers and every other profession or trade which keeps the country going, either from premises or in the field. They have had to plough on wearing uncomfortable PPE, adhering to awkward social distancing and with a fear that they may catch or spread the virus.

 “COVID-19 and the restrictions we have all faced leave a serious mental health crisis in their wake. There was already a growing momentum for managing mental health in the workplace, and as an HR adviser, I feel there is a real opportunity to build on this with more businesses understanding the duties and benefits of offering support in this area.”

For enquiries on any aspects of the effects of the pandemic on employers, please contact Helen Colechin from The HR Dept, at helen.colechin@hrdept.co.uk or on 0203 817 4434.

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