The Return to Work



16 March 2021

The lockdown has been long and arduous for us all, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to return to the physical workplace when the crisis is finally over.

So what evidence do we have for this assertion?  In September 2020 a CIPD survey suggested that;

“81% of employees expect to work at home at least one day a week post lockdown.”

And the key word in the above sentence is “expect”.  These are workers who clearly feel that they have proven – probably beyond all reasonable doubt – that they can and will work just as effectively at home as in their official pre-Covid workplace. 

And if more than 4 in every 5 workers are saying this, then employers really have little choice but to give this subject some sympathetic attention. 

The employer perspective

So what position are employers likely to take? 

The same CIPD survey demonstrated a major change in corporate attitudes also.  Indeed 70% of employers were looking to expand or introduce working from home.  This is a significant shift from the “workplace-centric” position that so many organisations were taking just 12 months ago. 

So it appears that attitudes on both sides of the employment fence around flexible working practices were on the move even before the second wave of the virus and resultant lockdowns arrived.  And the latest set of national restrictions are only likely to have normalised home working even further.

A positive outcome

And this might well be a good thing. 

After all, a more content worker is likely to be more loyal, engaged, and productive.  Indeed the employee engagement expert (and former Managing Director of Waitrose) Lord Mark Price said last year;

“if my people are happy they’ll stay longer, they’ll work harder……my customers will get better service, as a consequence of which we’ll have a better business over the long term”

Which, in a nutshell, is the case made for facilitating more flexible working practices.

Any challenges?

Of course such a significant change in working practices comes with baggage and presents some significant new challenges and tasks for employers to navigate.  Items to consider include employee isolation issues, remote training and support, management oversight, IT infrastructure, data protection, personal security, and motivation support for those workers who are less inclined to be self-starters. 

Any or all of the above would usually represent potentially insurmountable challenges to daily business activities, and one that most employers would probably look to park until another day (and probably in another decade). 

Yet the nation has effectively been living through a live home-working experiment for the last year anyway, so it follows that many (perhaps most) of the more obvious challenges of remote working have already been identified.  And indeed most will have been overcome with a potent mixture of necessity, compromise, trust, and good old fashioned common sense. The reality is that full or part-time home working now represents a far less significant barrier to both employers and employees than it did prior to the pandemic. 

What about remuneration packages?

Yet some of the less obvious issues may still need to be addressed – and one such area is employee benefits provision.

Now the benefits on offer to a home worker need not significantly differ from those offered to employees based in offices.  So employers should continue to offer the expected core benefits covering areas such as life and income protection, physical and mental health, financial wellbeing, and (of course) a company pension plan too.

But some tweaks to the delivery of the offering may be required.

Firstly it will be important to offer benefits that have little or no geographical bias.  Often employers operate at least some benefits that can only be utilised when in particular office locations (for instance a gym membership where the gym is based only next to the Head Office site).  Such benefits will obviously have little appeal to home workers, so may need to be reviewed and replaced with a more national or even international offering to remain relevant to all workers.

But the big change for many employers will be in the delivery of benefits to the end user. 

Many employers – even those with otherwise sophisticated employee benefits offerings – have yet to adopt a benefits platform to allow employees to understand, interact, and engage with their employee benefits offering remotely.  This was perhaps understandable when most employees were location based and had more daily interaction with their peers and managers.  But the old analogue approach to employee benefits is likely to prove far more problematical when the workforce is geographically separated.  Technology and benefits platforms can really help bridge this gap.

The reality is that home-working is probably here to stay for many UK workers.  Employers need to recognise this seismic change and accordingly aim to ensure that their employee benefits offering and technology is fit for purpose in the new post-Covid flexible working world.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 16/03/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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