Supporting deskless workers in a Covid-19 world

Flexible working has become one of the top buzzwords of 2020. Whether guiding a transition to remote working, or supporting those affected by homeschooling and the virus, millions of UK employees have been granted flexibility in the workplace.

But what about the forgotten workforce - those without desks?

There have been hundreds of studies and guides shared for engaging office-based employees during the pandemic. Yet doctors, supermarket workers, labourers and those who can’t work virtually need equal if not more support.

As non-essential shops, gyms, hotels and entertainment centres reopen for a second time, it begs the question - how can businesses support our deskless workers?

Innovative multi-channel communications

Many companies already had a mix of remote employees, office-based headquarters and those without a desk before Covid-19. However as more and more organisations adopt a blended workforce, the need for multi-channel communications increases.

A lack of connection between different types of workers is a common problem and one that is often derived from poor communication. Not all employees will be able to access the same newsletters or meetings. This leaves workers feeling out of the loop, lending to decreased productivity and motivation.

Employing a platform for casual conversation can boost connectivity and avoid the opposing problem of oversharing information. A balance is crucial - too much irrelevant communication and employees can be left overwhelmed and disengaged.

Multi-feature apps such as Slack and Google Chat present the same familiarity of social media and instant messaging platforms that workers use in their personal lives - but without the threat of GDPR violations. These innovations streamline idea sharing, immediate feedback and the ability to check in with teams no matter their location.

A personable approach to leadership

The Covid-19 outbreak has presented more challenges to leaders in business than ever before. From every angle, obstacles and serious concerns have been thrown at those in charge, all under the cautious eye of their workers. From job security to wellbeing to pay and benefits, employee welfare has never been so high on the agenda.

But for those without a desk, an additional challenge was presented - the safety and security of their workplace. Without the option to work from home, deskless staff have been left with no option but to adhere to social distancing, PPE and increased cleaning regulations in order to work.

Leaders not only need to ensure their workforce can safely fulfil their duties. A heightened level of personable qualities are also required. Empathy, reassurance and gratitude are essential characteristics in a Covid-19 world whilst harnessing collaboration and idea sharing is necessary to survive the threat that continues to face businesses.

Leadership teams should also take this opportunity to examine and learn from how their decision making and response to the pandemic has impacted their teams. Not only financially or in regards to wellbeing, but also in regards to diversity and representation.

Rebuilding businesses with diversity at front of mind

Despite the devastating impact felt by businesses throughout 2020, there are glimmers of hope as we enter the recovery phase. As our country rebuilds and organisations restructure, there is an opportunity to do with diversity as a priority.

In their recent report ‘Guarding Against Unintended Consequences - The Impact of Covid-19 on Gender and Race & Ethnic Diversity in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure,’ WiHTL (Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure) produced in partnership with The MBS Group and PwC, explored the likely impact of Covid-19 on workplace diversity in the third biggest industry in the UK.

Disappointingly, the report showed that Covid-19 may have reversed some of the progress in ethnic and gender diversity, and that many senior women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds have been impacted more by Covid-19 responses in hospitality, travel and leisure than their male and/or white counterparts.

Strong female or ethnic minority role models have exited, budgets to achieve D&I goals have been slashed, D&I has become less of a priority for the board, and businesses are not collecting the vital data needed to measure the impact of Covid-19 on their business’ diversity. Similarly, more women have accepted voluntary redundancy packages than men due to caring responsibilities, or because they believe their roles (such as marketing, HR or legal) will be more easily transferable to other sectors less impacted by Covid-19.

However, despite these backwards steps, there are shoots of hope. Overall, there is a belief that the changes resulting from the crisis could present an opportunity to improve diversity in the sector in the future (50% think it likely; 37% believe it is possible).

Historically the creation of diverse leadership teams has been a dormant improvement due to the nature of role progression. Yet with a mass need for new organisational structures comes a chance to promote existing diverse talent into leadership roles.

The MBS Group has implemented this concept for the NED hotel chain, commenting “It is imperative to bring in as much diversity of thought as possible on a regular basis. Throughout this crisis, most businesses will have been cost-cutting and reorganising – which brings with it another moment to insist on increasing diversity when it comes to rebuilding.”

Accelerated diversity doesn’t have to stop at leadership level. Covid-19’s impact on the size of teams has also driven a higher rate of representation and inclusion. Interviewed by the WiHTL, one female leader stated: “with fewer people in the teams we focused more on each other’s wellbeing, and we were more attuned to topics such as diversity. I found that, as a woman, my voice was better heard.”

It is however imperative that this translates to all organisations. In the face of a crisis, some executives opposingly reported a lack of diverse opinion in Covid-19 response decision making. Companies must look around the table and ensure their employees’ voices are being represented, particularly in such crucial moments.

Flexibility must remain a constant for better work/life balance

This year has seen many workers strengthen their boundaries for a better work/life balance as the pandemic fast-tracked the conversation around flexibility.

In WiHTL’s report, one business executive states “before this, we had never entertained flexible working. Now, we’re much more open to people doing roles at home, and there’s an acceptance that people can be productive over Zoom or Teams.”

Yet for those working outside of their home, this balance has proven even more difficult in a Covid-19 world. Demand for customer-facing staff has peaked and dipped beyond prediction whilst social distancing and reducing the risk of transmission has challenged scheduling. Whilst doctors and nurses remain one of the most overworked roles, all frontline staff across supermarkets, transportation services and manufacturing have also felt the pressure to up their hours.

This change has particularly impacted those on zero-hour contracts. Whilst this working pattern is designed specifically to support flexibility, it has left thousands jobless and unsupported by the Covid-19 response policies. Many in hospitality have been made redundant due to cost-cutting measures which not only affects gender diversity (with a higher proportion of women working zero-hour contracts) but also highlights discrepancies regarding the value of these employees (WiHTL).

Equally unsettling are the number of businesses who don’t anticipate a continuation in flexible working. Despite a forced trial that has shown the effectiveness of remote working, much of the hospitality sector has rapidly reduced online workers whilst other organisations feel there is an unfairness in offering flexibility to office based colleagues and not those on the front line.

Yet post pandemic, there is a way to implement a flexible working model, even for a multi-site environment.

The NHS are just one deskless organisation who have committed to making flexible working a normalised part of employment in their 2020/2021 People Plan. This not only fosters inclusivity but also makes room for out of work responsibilities such as childcare and the increasing number of carers.

But how can our healthcare - and other non-office companies alike - implement this model amidst a global health crisis?

Smart rostering is a tech-driven solution that is overcoming this complex issue. Rotageek’s AI-driven engine combines historical data, forecasting needs and events trends to not only produce automatic, compliant rotas - but to appeal to individual requirements.

Users can enjoy the benefits of ‘self-rostering’ by inputting their own availability and directly swapping shifts directly from their phone. This reduces manual administration for schedule creators whilst simultaneously supporting our deskless workers’ need for flexibility.

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