Future of Work: a reflection on the changing world of work post-pandemic and its lasting legacy

  • Monday, October 18, 2021
  • Posted By The Growth Company

Authored by Ian MacArthur, Director of The GM Good Employment Charter

After attending the Growth Company’s Progress21 Global event at Manchester Central, it was clear to see that the pandemic has changed the landscape of our working lives irreversibly. For many, this was the first business conference they had attended post-pandemic. With mask wearing encouraged and delegate capacity limited it was an example of the ‘new normal’ we face as we move back into the physical employment space.

The morning seminar at Progress21 Global focused on the Future of Work for businesses, not just in Greater Manchester, but internationally. Centring on the changing world of work post-pandemic, and the lasting legacy Covid-19 will have, the panellists came from a diverse mix of employers, and were led by Professor Julia Rouse of the Manchester Metropolitan University Decent Work Centre. 

Covid-19 has inarguably changed the way we work. The widespread adoption of home working, including the personal advantages it has brought and the economic savings made, has placed a question mark against the future viability of the office and traditional work patterns. The blurring of home and office has also had huge consequences from a Good Employment point of view. It is forcing managers to raise their game, improving office life for all. It may also lead to changes in employment law to offer better protection for workers who spend less time in the office. And less positively, it will deepen political and cultural divisions between knowledge workers and those in processing and service jobs that require physical proximity. 

Professor Julia Rouse opened by stating that “The future of work is intensively in the making right now.” Throughout the two-hour session the panellists proved this, pointing towards current research and anecdotal evidence showing how different our working ways are compared to 18 months ago, and how important it is for businesses to commit to these changes to continue being good employers. 

The Future of the Office 
A key topic covered during the session was the future of the office. Alan Lockey, Head of the RSA Future Work Centre, spoke on this: “One of the extraordinary findings of the pandemic is that productivity is, at the very worst, neutral for remote workers vs. in the office. The institution of the office, whose primary function is to increase productivity, went out of our working lives for 18 months and we did not see a big drop off.”

Daniel Kasmir, Chief People Officer at TalkTalk was more supportive of office-based work and discussed the impact our lack of face-to-face time has had on creativity over the past 18 months. He said: “As human beings we’re social creatures. There’s no question that as we have started to come back into the office to see each other face-to-face there’s been a bit of a Eureka moment, like oh my God, this is fantastic, I can’t believe I’ve been away from it.” 

Alan Lockey also suggested further consideration is needed when it comes to hybrid working, especially when it comes to the future of our city centres. “There are massive challenges with hybrid working which need to be mitigated. The first is place – what happens to city centres? The evidence is starting to come in on this. There’s a suburbanisation of cities and a movement of economic demand to those suburbs.” 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 
It isn’t just space, socialisation and the high street we need to consider when putting an emphasis on remote working. Businesses must consider their EDI agenda, and whether their practices are inclusive. The panel discussed in depth the inequalities that working from home across the past 18 months, has brought to the surface, particularly when it comes to gender. 

Alan Lockey put it this way: “If you’re putting more work into homes, homes are not equal spaces. The work that is done in homes is never split equally by gender. In the first lockdown it’s fair to say the productivity of parents went right down as they had to care for and home school their children. Women did 55% more of this than men, including the domestic labour that went with that. By the second lockdown, this went to 99%. This is a massive challenge that will spill over for workers and firms as we look to do hybrid working in an inclusive way.”

Prof Julia Rouse weighed in to offer an intersectional view. “Even prior to pandemic, women were much more likely to be paid under the minimum wage and black women were hugely much more likely to not only be paid under minimum wage but to be out of the labour market. We need to keep moving this agenda back to central stage as we speak about good employment.” 

The Technological Revolution 
During the pandemic businesses began to rely on technology more than ever before. Georgina Knockton shared that Microsoft Teams went from having 20 million users pre Covid-19 to over 145 million daily active users in April 2021. This was largely due to the shift in remote working brought on by the pandemic.

She said: “The typical waterfall approaches we have to deploying technology were thrown out the window and the culture change that’s so often a big factor in discussions about changing technology wasn’t even considered. What we have seen is that those businesses who quickly deployed technology like Teams aren’t getting their full potential, often they are only at 50% utilisation.”

An important consideration then, is how do businesses reach the full potential of the technology on offer to them?  

Daniel Kasmir sees technology and associated skills as the way to reach the future of work and suggested the need for a new industrial digital revolution. He said: “The future of work has really got technology absolutely front and centre, and this needs to be partnered with a capability that sits across our society. This will allow people to really dive in and take advantage and bring a broader more diverse workforce into the workplace.” 

The conversation leaves us with the question of why? Why is it so important for organisations to consider the future of work? 

Georgina Knockton had one answer. She said: “We’re seeing the Great Resignation - 40% of people are looking for new jobs. 54% of them say the job they took would need to be flexible or hybrid.”

If employers do not look to update their working practices in line with other organisations, they could see their talent pool decrease, and lose valuable members of their team to somewhere that can offer not just better progression or a higher salary, but more flexibility in how they work.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD said: “It is so good to see what is going on in Greater Manchester with the Good Employment Charter. Gathering knowledge together to say what is it we have to do to change the world of work is such a powerful construct. Manchester can act as a beacon on this. Local communities and local businesses are so important to a concept like Good Employment, which comes down to some very important and simple ideas. Things like ‘am I paid enough? am I paid fairly’?”

The Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter is a voluntary membership and assessment scheme. It was created to improve employment standards across Greater Manchester employers, regardless of size, sector, or geography. Already reaching over 200,000 employees, organisations including public sector bodies, private sector businesses, service providers, the third sector, and voluntary and community organisations – can sign up to the Charter. For further information, please visit their website,