Businesses must brace themselves for a sea change in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, warned BHSF chief commercial officer Brian Hall.
Although employees have been returning to work since the Government began to relax lockdown restrictions, many companies face an uncertain future.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – otherwise known as the furlough scheme – until the end of October, with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff from August.
And Hall believes that, as and when the business world returns to any kind of normality, it will have to adjust like never before.
“For the businesses that are lucky enough to survive this, they will have to find new ways of doing things,” he said.
“That may be something relatively straightforward like asking employees to work from home more as we have all seen the benefits of that over the last few weeks. We have the technology in place so why not make the most of it?
“But that in turn will mean less office space being occupied. Will businesses be forced to sell or rent out office space, or rent or buy elsewhere?
“What we might find is that ‘robotisation’, machine-learning and the use of automated processes will accelerate faster than they were going to and that would clearly be an economic consequence.
“In four or five years’ time I think we’ll see new processes and new technologies that might not have come about for another decade or two, had it not been for this pandemic.
“The future is far from clear, but employers simply must be ready to adapt to whatever the ‘new normal’ may be because the world is going to change, there’s no doubt about that.”
Hall fears the worst for many companies in relation to job losses or – sadly – worse, but he was more optimistic about the Public Health England-approved antibody testing which looks for antibodies in the blood to see whether a person has had coronavirus.
While there is no evidence to suggest that people who have the antibodies are protected from being infected again, it’s a breakthrough that could be crucial to further easing the lockdown restrictions.
“It could be the key to getting more people back to work,” concurred Hall. “It really could be a game changer for employers because if their staff are tested and they find out that, say, a third of their employees has already had the disease then that will change the way they can operate.
“More research needs to be done and we must wait to find out the effectiveness of the antibodies but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”
One factor which is still a huge cause for concern and debate is the re-opening of schools.
Many parents are still juggling home schooling with working from home, while parents who aren’t able to work from home face an altogether different challenge.
Hall expressed sympathy for each and every parent up and down the country.
“It’s the biggest challenge,” he said. “Forget work for a second; the one thing every parent wants to know is how safe their child’s school is. But how safe is safe enough? No-one can answer that.
“And with schools not being fully open yet, there’s the logistics of childcare, certainly if the parent has to go back to work.
“There are so many questions and so many unknowns, and I really do feel for every parent right now because only once you know that your child is safe can you even think about work.”
And as we all start to contemplate and become accustomed to life after the pandemic, Hall has urged businesses to put their employees’ mental health at the forefront of everything they do in the post-Covid-19 world.
“Everything is so out of kilter right now,” he said. “Employees might be feeling like they have no control over so many aspects of their job, through no fault of their own, and in some instance this can lead to poor mental health.
“Yes, there are financial concerns, of course there are, but employers need to look after their staff perhaps now more than ever – and also as things continue to change over the next few weeks and months.
“Mental health must be prioritised each and every day.”
BHSF RISE is a tailored mental health and wellbeing service which provides unlimited, ongoing specialist support built around an individual’s specific needs.