I have worked in recruitment for 13 years and I have seen many global issues including global recessions that have had dramatic effects on the construction industry. However I think it would be fair to say that I’ve never seen anything so impactful as the coronavirus pandemic that started to hit us in 2020.
This pandemic has not just had an effect on the workflow; it has influenced our working practices more than anything has in our lifetimes.
The vast majority of the construction industry have been forced to vacate their office based jobs and adapt to working from home. In fact there is a significant proportion of people that have not stepped foot in their office since last March. Almost approaching a year now which was unthinkable this time last year.
Despite the challenges of working from home, the overwhelming feedback from clients and candidates in the construction claims and disputes sector has been positive. Many employers and employees have stepped up to the challenge of working from home, and on the face of things it does not seem to have had a significant impact on productivity.
As a recruiter in the construction claims and disputes sector, I am intrigued to see whether the changes we have made to our working practices become embedded into our work culture after this pandemic is over. Will we continue to work from home post pandemic? Or not?
How Flexible were Claims & Disputes Consultancies Pre Pandemic?
It is slightly difficult to give a standard answer to this, as many businesses had different attitudes to flexible working arrangements and working from home. However if I was to try and generalise how flexible the claims and disputes sector in the UK was pre pandemic, I would have to say “Not Very Flexible!"
Working in the office and commuting from a reasonable distance (up to c. 1.5 hours) was very much the norm with the vast majority of employers that I worked with.
It is fair to say that a number of businesses were offering more flexible working arrangements pre-pandemic. It’s also fair to say that candidates demanding more flexible working arrangements, was on the rise. However, there were still many big employers in the sector that were behind the curve on this trend and seemed unwilling to allow staff to work from home on a regular and sustained basis.
Looking to the Future:
So looking into the future, do I think that this may change?
In short; “Yes!”
I think working from home for many has been a huge success on the face of things. I think that there are many benefits to working from home for the employee and employer. Therefore, I think we have are seeing a change in attitudes towards working from home. Pandora’s box has been opened, and I think that home working being proven to be effective for many, therefore I see very little reason to fight against it as a new way of working that should continue.
I do predict that more and more businesses in the construction claims and disputes sector will have a shift in their attitudes to flexible working arrangements. I am hearing this first-hand.
However, I do not see a huge shift towards businesses closing and de-sizing offices, and allowing large numbers of staff to work from home permanently. It seems too big a step and possibly not the most effective way to work either.
I also do not think we’ll see clients offering positions to candidates living on the other side of the country. I think there is scope for catchment areas to be increased slightly. i.e. London jobs for candidates in the Midlands and South West for example. But I do not see London based clients offering London ‘based’ positions to candidates in the North and Scotland and vice versa, as an example.
Finally, I think it’s key to point out that a reasonable percentage of employees do not want to be based from home all of the time. The office still plays a social and practical role for most people. With a significant percentage of people still preferring to be exclusively office based.
So there will always be a need for an office environment to cater for those that cannot or simply do not want to work from home.
Conclusion – Finding a Balance
I think over the coming years we will find a balance that works best for employers and employees when it comes to flexible working arrangements and working from home. The question will be where the equilibrium point eventually settles with regards to the flexibility and balance of mixing your time between the office and home.
There is no doubt that attitudes were changing towards home working even pre pandemic, and the pandemic has only accelerated and strengthened these attitudes and the argument for more flexible working.
Working from home has been forced upon many of us. The last year could be seen as an experiment to determine whether the concept as well as us as individuals sink or swim; and I think many have demonstrated that the it can at least tread water.
Do not get Left Behind:
I know that businesses are already discussing changes to their working practices internally and preparing for after the restrictions are loosened or lifted completely. I am already having conversations about such changes with businesses. Some of whom used to be geared very much towards the 5 day week in the office and are now wanting to give their employees more flexibility.
That appears to be a sensible approach. Whilst not everyone can or wants to work from home, a Yougov poll in September suggests that 57% of people would like to work from home at least “some” of the time.
I believe that employers need to recognise this trend and be prepared to offer solutions to employees who feel strongly and can demonstrate they can do their job adequately from home. Even if only some of the time.
Those not willing to adapt without good reason may find themselves being left behind when trying to attract the best talent in the market.
Senior Recruitment Consultant, UK