Entrepreneurs

Back To The Office: The Workplace Skills Impacted By Covid-19

In March last year, millions of people shifted to working from home in response to the threat of Covid-19. Now, with a return to work in sight, business leaders are planning strategically for the hybrid workplace. But first, they need to consider the adverse effects that remote working has had on their employees.

Skills at risk

In the digital age, there should be no barriers to the upskilling of staff, yet remote working has made its mark, eroding skills and impacting industry understanding.

Employees have missed out on important social interaction at the office, and as a result many of the skills around teamwork, collaboration and creativity that help to drive productivity, culture and competitiveness, are now at risk. Remote working can also impact communication, and conflict resolution skills, which, if mismanaged, could lead to a cultural misalignment with the business’ core values.

A report by online assessment provider Questionmark highlighted skills such as empathy, time management, teamwork, creativity and collaborative efficiency as the ones that employers need to focus on recapturing. An assessment of the workforce will help to identify skill gaps and provide the information that employers need to develop strategies to address any learning gaps.

Rob Hill, CEO and founder of experiences platform Fizzbox, believes that while his business has done its best to keep the team engaged and connected, there are simply fewer opportunities for fluid, creative thinking when teams are based remotely.

He says: “It’s been hard to commit the time and resource to staff learning and development, purely because our sector has been in fire-fight mode. As we emerge from this period of crisis, we’ll be placing a lot of focus on upskilling our current team, to foster engagement and retention, ultimately driving the business forward towards our key objectives.”

A new mindset for dealing with new risks

While data protection and financial crime risks have increased over the pandemic, many of the regulations that employees were used to dealing with on a day-to-day basis from their office desks may not have been their top priority while working from home.

“Employees have lost the focus on knowing the customer and conducting regular due diligence,” says Vivek Dodd, cofounder and COO of e-learning and compliance training regtech firm Skillcast. “Even the seasoned professionals will need to sharpen up. Regulators may stop going easy on companies and may want to send a wake up call by naming offenders and imposing large fines.”

The world of work has changed dramatically since employees last sat next to their colleagues, creating the potential for a range of HR risks, from offensive behavior to office romance. “HR managers might long for the times when workers were restricted to the homes,” adds Dodd.

New hires and office life

New starters have missed out on workplace mentoring for over a year and could lack many of the basic skills, including time-keeping, meeting promised deadlines, and even dressing appropriately. And after a year or more of virtual collaboration with colleagues they’ve never met in person, sharing an office with a large team of people and grasping the fundamentals of office etiquette add to the pressures for the newest members of staff.

Since lockdown, gaming startup Stakester has tripled its headcount. When it comes to dealing with the challenges of the office return, founder and CEO Tom Fairey believes that smaller businesses could be better placed to find solutions than large organizations.

He says: “Collaboration, ideation and relationships are key to startups and small businesses. We encourage staff to come in on the same days when they choose to come to the office now, and we have launched initiatives such as ‘coffee buddies’, where everyone can get a coffee from the local cafe, but they have to take someone with them in order to chat, bond and get to know each other better in person.”

For smaller businesses, in particular, mentoring from senior leadership is imperative for the professional development of more junior employees, says Tony Lysak, founder and CEO of The Software Institute.

“Many have struggled to learn through osmosis due to the lack of face-to-face experiences and learning opportunities, such as picking up key skills simply as a result of sitting next to senior staff and immediate guidance from managers,” he says. “The reality is that companies who do not encourage their employees to come back to the office risk widening the digital skills gap even further.”

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