There can be no denying that the pandemic had lasting repercussions on many aspects of people’s daily lives. This is especially true for those of us who work in offices where the landscape was forced through unparalleled change in a relatively short timeframe. In our niche housing IT market, remote-working roles were scarce and usually reserved for implementation or pre-sales consultants at software providers who also had a huge amount of weekly travel to do as well. Even 10-15 years ago, such roles were highly prized and very popular.
Before the pandemic, the technology to enable remote working had been available for years and many organisations had moved fully or in part to cloud services, but this was mostly used as a replacement for traditional servers and hardware or in conjunction with out-of-hours working. From an IT recruitment point of view, when the pandemic hit, and we were all forced into new ways of working, the differences between how organisations adapted was striking.
Some of our clients stopped recruiting completely and even cancelled arranged interviews, whereas others altered their working practices immediately and moved to full remote-working within a couple of weeks and quickly started using video interviews to speak to candidates.
It was noticeable that small to medium organisations and those based from the Midlands upwards were (in general) faster and more receptive to change and mobilised with speed, whereas several of their southern counterparts almost floundered and two years later, some still don’t know what their remote-working policies will look like.
More than just an employer…
The pandemic caused a sea change in candidates’ behaviour which shows no sign of abating. For some time now there has already been a distinct shift from traditional employee thinking, with people expecting more from their employer than just being paid and being forced to go to a tired Christmas party every year.
Modern employees want a decent work-life balance, fair pay and relevant benefits along with a caring, respectful employer. Workplace wellbeing and respect for employees are massive draws for today’s candidates, leaving any company even hinting at a lack of flexibility lagging behind with applications in today’s candidate-driven market. Applicants are also voting with their feet by showing little or zero interest in a full-time return to an office. When speaking to our candidates applying for such roles, it often transpires that they have actually completely missed the ‘100 per cent office-based’ aspect of a role and still expect some remote working.
Clear remote-working policies
With our candidates, we’ve found that the most popular potential employers are those with robust, clear and ‘official’ agile-working policies. Usually, such companies are also the most organised when it comes to their employees, with wellbeing programmes and staff training, plus engaging careers and benefits pages on their websites. These potential employers’ care for their employees’ engagement is apparent and today’s candidates expect this.
In contrast, the least popular roles are with companies who have no flexible working or only completely office-based roles, or those who haven’t put any effort into thinking of an employee benefits package or gone to the trouble of writing a job description. Today’s best candidates expect more, especially in a sector that is supposed to be about helping people.
In 2020, the UK’s workforce was either furloughed or had to quickly adapt to remote working. Most organisations had never contemplated the entirety of their office-based staff working from home but most of us managed and the sky didn’t fall in! The ‘new normal’ of a remote office seemed to be working for many organisations, with happier staff and some companies finding it so successful that they gave up their offices entirely, saving money on rent at the same time. This new way of thinking regarding the relevance of a physical office continued for quite a while after all the lockdowns ended.
Our client base is diverse and includes everything from small/medium housing providers to G15 sites, innovative IT start-ups to award-winning multinational software companies, and local council to huge London boroughs. As a result, we’ve seen a range of different responses to post-pandemic working practices and candidates’ subsequent reactions.
Many of the smaller IT companies are inherently disposed to take advantage of the latest technologies so were already fully remote pre-lockdown and really showed their strengths during periods of change. There has been a growing interest in such organisations over the past year because candidates are more receptive to smaller, personal organisations and are less bothered by change.
Some housing providers have also given up, or are in the process of giving up, their main office and are moving to office hubs instead. This works well with their agile-working policies, giving staff the best of both worlds via remote options alongside the ability to work or meet colleagues in smaller, more flexible spaces.
Such proactive thinking is proving popular with many potential and existing employees. We speak to dozens of candidates every day and over 99 per cent expect some form of remote working; some people are quite happy to go into the office for a couple of days each week while others are only interested if they can work remotely for the majority of their time.
The dark side of remote working
However, there is a dark side to remote working. Employees’ attitudes towards personal rather than employer satisfaction, mixed with remote working, have created an alarming trend of a small number of unprincipled remote workers actually working for two or more companies without the other companies knowing.
Apparently, the thought process is, “why do one job well when two or three can be mediocre and get paid for all of them.” We’ve encountered a full-time, fixed-term salaried employee who was also working on a couple of day-rate contracts (one full-time, one part-time). Only the part-time role appeared on their CV so they were covered for future employment.
Being nowhere near the actual office can also be disastrous for employees if their employer changes their working arrangements and they find themself with, say, an extraordinarily-long daily commute. We heard recently from several candidates that they had been employed on a fully-remote basis only to find just a few months later that the company had gone back on its remote-working policy and wanted everybody back in the office every day.
A candidate-driven market
Dissenting voices against remote working and for presenteeism argue that employees don’t work properly from home and that productivity is down. Recruitment and staff retention go hand in hand so this is a moot point in a candidate-driven market because employees demand more and are looking elsewhere; it will stay that way until the market changes, irrespective of the opinions of politicians and business tycoons.
Jennifer Shorten is a director of Lioness Recruitment.