Why agile ways of living and working have got to be the ‘new normal’ from now on (by Andrew Tugwell, Group Operations Director)
It goes without saying business leaders everywhere are identifying and learning lessons at the moment. We’ve had 12 months of reactionary activity as employers which, with any luck, is finally at an end. As restrictions begin to ease there’s optimism this time round, alongside the vaccination roll out, that although ‘normal’ is still a long way off, a more consistent change of pace for UK businesses might now be possible.
At the start of 2020 Acorn’s focus was what Brexit might look like, and what the impact might be. A lot of our temporary workforce were EU nationals, and throughout 2019 many had already started returning to their home countries as their economies improved, and because they felt uncertain about life in the UK.
During the first week of March, I was at a gathering of our parent company in Vienna to discuss the coming year and, at best, Covid-19 was mentioned a few times in three days. Days later, however, the reality of the pandemic struck.
All 40 of our branches and our head office closed their doors, and our IT and senior management teams had to work out how our staff might continue working safely from home. We had a matter of days, but together we did it.
I was amazed to see how everyone pulled together so quickly to make this new reality work and, even more importantly, make it a productive reality for the sake of our clients. Everyone found a way to do their jobs, look after their children and share space with their partners for 24 hours a day - something most of them had never had to do before.
When we talk about agile working, which businesses across the UK were already turning themselves on to in a big way before Covid-19, it couldn’t have got more ‘real’ any quicker.
Agile working is about bringing people, processes, connectivity and time together to find the most effective way of carrying out a particular task. It’s about working within guidelines of the task without being bound by the conventional boundaries of how you are ‘meant’ to achieve it.
If you think about how we have run both our homes and our ‘offices’ over the past year in order to get things done, agile working is here, and it’s here to stay.
A year ago, many of our clients were forced to close factories and offices. Building sites stopped and the need for temporary workers quickly became almost obsolete. Permanent hires also suffered because nobody wanted to make the decision to take on new workers when they had no idea how long this thing would last - or even if they would survive.
Like many companies, Acorn had no option but to furlough a proportion of our internal staff and some of our temps for a period too. This gave us the opportunity to support our staff in the short-term but also the breathing space to restructure our business to remain viable.
As the months went on some of our customers found themselves able to reopen, albeit on different terms, and orders started to come back in. We began to bring some of our furloughed staff back in to support the increase in business.
From there it was a case of further enhancing the technological adjustments we had already made to the infrastructure of our business to suit this new way of working even better which, by now, we realised was here for the long-term.
This ranged from allowing candidates to register on-line, to introducing collaborative tools for online meetings and sharing data more effectively, to the continued roll out of our workforce planning tools that now give temporary workers the ability to interact with us via an app.
Automated marketing tools also allow us to continually interact with our candidates today to make them aware of vacancies they may wish to apply for, and ensure we have the most up-to-date information on our database, which has been the most recent addition for us.
It’s not how we would conventionally have done things before, but we are here to get the job done – we’re working within the requirements of the task, but not in the way we would have been used to doing it before.
What’s also interesting, as I’ve said, is that many of these changes were already being made before - all Covid has done is forced us to move far quicker than we would have. And now we’ve all been living it for 12 months, our valued workforce are as invested in this new ‘agile’ way that we live our lives, and approach our professional responsibilities, as our business is too.
As we start to move out of lockdown again, I can see our teams relishing the thought of returning to the office and their colleagues for a few days a week. A five-day week will unlikely be the norm for a very long time - if ever - and if that works in the long-term, that’s fine.
We have new agile ways of working that suit our employees and give them the flexibility and trust they deserve, whilst still being productive as a whole. For the moment, it works, and nobody can say we won’t find ourselves having to re-visit the way we’ve got used to operating as businesses, never mind families, again.
But clients that have closed are opening up again and requiring our services. Vaccinations are rolling out at a pace. Our children are back to school. We are not out of the woods yet but, finally, it feels like the ‘new normal’ for recruitment and life as a whole, could be about to arrive at long last.
And what I’m taking away from the year just gone is that, whilst we may have known it was coming before this pandemic was even a thing, the concept of living life the agile way has arrived, and it is working.
So, if there are any other curveballs set to come our way in the next 12 months, we’ll have the flex we need as businesses to deal with it.
Andrew Tugwell is Group Operations Director at Acorn Recruitment. Acorn is listed in the top 1% of all leading UK recruiters and works across 40 branches nationwide with hundreds of British and international businesses operating in all sectors.