Back in 2020, the pandemic transformed the way that organisations operated almost overnight. Now, after almost 16 months the government will lift all COVID-19 regulations in England, with the vast majority also lifted in the other home nations. But, what does this ‘Freedom Day’ mean for UK businesses? Free from pandemic restrictions, organisations must now take learnings from their experiences and navigate a safe path for the future of their businesses and employees. Below, senior executives from a variety of technology companies provide insight into what the future of work will look once restrictions are lifted, and tips on how businesses can best prepare for this.
Asam Akhtar, UK Manager at Envoy
“As we rapidly approach ‘Freedom Day’ leaders should, if they haven’t already, think long and hard about how to support employees through the transition. According to our UK Return to the Workplace Report, we found that though UK employees are eager to return to work (70% believe a hybrid model would be beneficial), over half (59%) are still concerned about their safety in the office.
It’ll be critical to listen to employees and take their concerns seriously. Be proactive. Hold regular surveys to gauge employee sentiment – and then take what you learn and put it into action. Implement solutions that allay their fears about health and safety. For peace of mind, some organisations are opting to manage office capacity or survey and screen employees before they come to the office, and trace contacts of employees who get sick.
Fundamentally, employees miss the social interactions and community that comes with being in the workplace. They want to return to the office – but not every day. To boost performance and to decrease the stress that’s come from an incredibly difficult 16 months, be prepared to start slow and be flexible with work routines during this interim period. Offer hybrid options that provide workers with the choice of how, when, and where they work. Then, find the right technology solutions that help teams sync schedules and collaborate when they’re on-site.”
Stuart Templeton, Head of UK at Slack
“The last 18 months have clearly shown that the age of the office is coming to an end. Workers have demonstrated that they can be just as effective, creative, and productive working from anywhere and few of them will be rushing back into company headquarters any time soon. The office is simply no longer the gold standard of productivity and organisations are starting to catch on to the fact that they need to offer greater flexibility if they want to keep and retain top talent. In fact, our latest survey found that only 20% of knowledge workers want to return to working full-time in the office, highlighting that this cultural change is here to stay.
While every organisation will approach this differently, staying connected and aligned must remain the top priority for business leaders – especially as they navigate this new world of flexible and distributed work. Digital infrastructure has a clear role to play here. Organisations that invest in advanced, feature-rich solutions like Slack that can serve as a company’s virtual HQ will see dramatic improvements in productivity, an employee’s ability to manage stress and anxiety, and help people feel more aligned and connected to each other, even when they are miles apart.”
Dahwood Ahmed, Regional Director UK&I at Extreme Networks
“Despite the relaxation of rules, employees will continue to desire the flexibility to choose how and where they work – so distributed work is likely here to stay. As a result, businesses must prioritise breaking down geographical barriers and organisational silos to keep their employees connected and productive. A misconception that must be avoided is believing that the first priority to facilitate distributed work is the software and hardware they use – forgetting that a robust, resilient, and reliable network must first be in place the benefits of these technologies can be realised. Whether a global enterprise or university campus, a network is instrumental to the running of any business. Once the right networking structure is in place, not only can everyone stay connected and maintain business operations but can begin pursuing any digital transformation effort.”
Clare Loveridge, Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Arctic Wolf
“As the UK’s freedom day approaches and teams gradually return to the office, many businesses are still working out what this means for their future operations.
For many, this is bringing a whole new set of cybersecurity challenges, which in some cases are even more complex than going fully remote was a year ago. If worker devices continue to move between different networks, their company security can quite easily be compromised, identity and access management becomes harder, misconfigurations are easier to miss — all increasing cyber risk.
It is therefore vital that organisations, of any shape and size, are actively taking the time to review their security practices and protocols, with a hybrid, often disparate networks, in mind. Businesses must ask themselves these questions; how fast they can react to an incident; how quickly they can pivot from investigation to containment, and how well do they know the environment and what runs within it? Only then can freedom from cyber risk be truly realised.”
CEO and Co-Founder Dr Tim Guilliams at Healx
“With lockdown restrictions largely lifted, businesses across the country will yet again have to reevaluate the way they work, if they haven’t already. At Healx, we were lucky to be able to quickly transition to a fully remote environment back in March 2020, thanks to existing processes already in place to support a hybrid workforce. While we welcome being reunited once again with colleagues in-person, it is important to also listen to what different teams want and assess the benefits of remote working against the physical office.
Having heavily invested in various internal communications channels, we now have strong methods of ensuring cross-functional discussion – no matter where everyone is working. We have also reworked various simple practices to remain connected as best we can. For example moving to a weekly all-team meeting, implementing regular wellbeing check-ins, building in more contact time between employees across the organisation through virtual ‘water cooler’ chats and even creating a ‘common language’ using semantic emojis on Slack. Every one of these initiatives has been critical in maintaining our culture at Healx, and, as we look ahead to life after 19th July, we will remain agile and hybrid to support our organisation’s growth and success.”
Jeff Heckler, Global Head of Customer Success at Pipedrive
“On July 19, UK lockdown restrictions will be lifted. What does this mean for businesses? For teams working across sales, marketing, and customer care we believe it simply reaffirms lessons learned from COVID-19. Now more than ever, we need to connect with each other and the wider business to ensure we empathetically and collaboratively adapt to evolving customer needs. Critical to providing the best customer experience and doing our best work is being provided with the right technology to stay connected, collaborative, and as productive as possible. For example, automation tools can help to reduce the time wasted on repetitive or labour-intensive tasks, so we are able to focus more time and resources on customers.
If the last year or so has taught us anything, it’s adaptability. Business leaders should continue to improve their ability to overcome change through agile reconstruction of technology. Take this milestone as an opportunity to explore the market for tools that will not only allow your organisation and teams to survive work changes post-Freedom Day, but also thrive.”
Simon O’Kane, Head of EMEA at Asana
“With UK lockdown restrictions now lifted, businesses are busy preparing for the next chapter of work. Whether they champion an office-centric approach like we are doing at Asana, choose to go fully remote, or something in between, enterprises have a business imperative to keep employees connected regardless of location. Reviewing these processes now is critical to ensure that staff are aligned, engaged, and armed with the tools they need to do their best work, no matter where they’re working.
“Redefining working practises is the first step for businesses looking to work effectively post-lockdown. Ensure that there are safety protocols in place for employees commuting into the office, and that remote workers are still able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This is a new frontier of work for everyone, so embrace the opportunity to lead intentionally and reunite as a collective team. As a first step, identify the tools that facilitate connection and transparent collaboration to keep your distributed teams aligned. There are many to choose from, but at Asana, we have found that taking a less is more approach is most effective. Using a single platform as a source of truth eliminates information silos, allowing teams to seamlessly complete work in any time zone or location. Putting clarity front and centre of all operations will be crucial in the coming months so that businesses can create a culture where all employees feel connected and can thrive.”
Peggy de Lange, VP of International Expansion at Fiverr
“Over the past year businesses have been forced to rapidly adapt to a volatile and unstable market. For many, this has involved drawing on the support of digital freelancers to equip teams with the tools they need to work effectively and ensure productivity remains high. With UK COVID restrictions lifting, businesses will need to adapt to cater to inevitable changes in workers’ lifestyles and market demands. Seeking freelance support is a viable solution, particularly when rapid changes need to be made. Whether businesses are trying to optimise their social channels, launch new products or create an eCommerce store, freelance marketplaces allow enterprises to build a specialist team that are tailored to individual business needs. Over half (58%) of UK businesses are working with digital freelancers to support their teams. As they navigate a hybrid future of work and restrictions continue to ease, digital freelance talent will continue to be crucial to business success. The world of work has changed and outsourcing resources has become a huge part of this new normal. To build a specialist team tailored to business needs, whether restrictions are in place or not, business leaders must equip themselves with the tools they need to remain agile and boost productivity.”
Anthony Tattersall, VP of EMEA at Coursera
“As pandemic restrictions fade, and companies define their long-term remote work strategy, we’re presented with a transformative opportunity to reshape how businesses operate and innovate within the workforce of the future.Now is the time to invent and adopt new tools and methods for generative brainstorming and decision-making that are built for distributed teams, rather than merely mimicking the effect of casually working together in an office. Let’s raise the bar and aim to be even more effective at eliciting brilliance and “aha” moments than we were pre-pandemic. For companies positioned to grow and to thrive, today represents an opportunity to voluntarily continue redefining innovation itself and the process by which we spark it. Let’s not just return to the old ways of working, let’s make them even better.”
Jamie Milroy, CEO & Co-Founder, DASH Rides
“The message may be one of caution, but Boris has sent a clear signal that businesses can reopen. Freedom Day won’t necessarily mark a mass return to the workplace, but it does represent an important milestone for organisations and the start of a new era for working post-Pandemic. Businesses must take this golden opportunity to create new practices and policies that align to changing employee expectations and meet the needs of today’s workforce. Building safe and sustainable travel into the heart of back to work strategies will be critical in helping people return safely and confidently.
Our relationship to the daily commute has irrevocably changed. Employees are increasingly calling out for new modes of travel that improves not only their health, wellbeing and productivity but their environmental footprint too. With many UK workers citing the daily commute as a barrier to a full-time return to the office and 82% stating they would like their employer to use COVID as a catalyst to revamp their employee benefits, such as travel or cycle to work schemes, we’re already seeing sustainable travel become central to the future of work. As much of the workforce starts a gradual return to offices, businesses need to have an action plan in place to ensure their people can commute safely, flexibly and sustainably.”