The idea of a more flexible approach to working has been a topic of discussion for some time now. Organisational approaches have varied, ranging from a wholehearted commitment to ‘agile’ working with their workforce almost completely mobile, to a more hesitant approach to this concept with perhaps one or two days a week being acceptable for some roles.
As they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ – and while the COVID pandemic cannot claim to have invented agile working, its impact has certainly forced those with even the most traditional of approaches to work to adapt and embrace remote work. This impact was immediate and complete, as professionals all over the country set up in their kitchens and box rooms for the foreseeable future.
We recently surveyed more than 350 senior decision-makers across three industry groupings – government, financial services, and critical infrastructure – to establish the impact the events of 2020 had on them personally, on their organisations and for the industries they work in, and also to understand their outlook for the year ahead as many of us plan for the post-pandemic rebuild.
The biggest organisational impact felt by respondents was the move to remote working. The change in working locations and patterns had the larget effect on organisations, with more than 60% of respondents highlighting this as the biggest change for them.
Some 69% of government-based respondents put the move to remote working in their top three biggest events that most impacted their organisations in 2020.
How long for, we don’t yet know, but I think a return to the old status quo is very unlikely, with many organisations taking the opportunity to look at their property commitments and asking the question – what do we actually need for the future?
Is there a risk of failing to adapt workforce models to be truly flexible, as opposed to just relying on remote working? Location is just one part of the shift. In a survey conducted during the second English lockdown, the recruitment agency Timewise found that less than 22% of roles currently advertised offered any element of ‘flexibility’.
Flexible roles allow people to manage their lives better – whether that be in support of those with caring responsibilities, those who want to continue their education, those with health issues, or those who live in more remote areas and may have struggled with long commutes. Flexible roles can be more inclusive and more diverse – and can promote more progressive thinking and create opportunities for a wider pool of talent. They can also furnish organisations with access to the latest skills and provide much needed agility in times of disruption and change.
While there may prove to be many benefits for organisations that continue with and really embrace remote working, one advantage will undoubtedly be access to a much greater pool of talent for their resourcing requirements. Without the restriction of ‘the commute’, the world really does become their oyster, when it comes to looking for talent.
While the world of permanent recruitment may take longer to truly throw off the shackles of location when recruiting, in terms of engaging with interim professionals and consultants, this new acceptance of remote delivery may offer organisations access to a wider range of interim/consultant talent than pre-COVID at more cost-effective rates.
Interim professionals and consultants, were perhaps already better equipped for this change in approach to working than most employees, having been working flexibly and across changing locations for most of their careers. They are often fully set up for home working and comfortable with and equipped for agile working.
Historically this labour force have been highly flexible on where they deliver their assignments, working across the UK, but more recently the implementation of IR35 legislation within the public sector and restrictions on the interim on what they are able to reclaim, have meant that professionals working within the interim market increasingly look for work closer to home.
As a significant proportion of interim labour is based in the South of England or around major towns and cities, some areas of the UK experience more challenges in securing the best interim talent. There are certain UK locations that have always been harder to get to or are more expensive to secure accommodation in, and therefore have been less attractive for interim professionals, reducing the options for organisations in these areas. Where organisations have been able to secure interim resources, they often have had to pay a premium for the interim services to cover any travel and accommodation costs incurred by the interim.
With work being delivered remotely, or significantly less time required on-site, the pool of interim talent available to organisations is greater than ever, and with reduced travel and accommodation costs being incurred by the interim, the day rates this talent can be secured at offers an increasingly cost effective option for organisations.
As organisations change, adapt, and prepare, for life with or post-COVID, the need for interim expertise and capacity will be as valuable as ever, and by genuinely embracing the new approaches to agile working and remote delivery, organisations can ensure they have access to the very best interim talent available in the market.
Stephen Hoban is Director of Public Sector Interim at Veredus