Our highlights from our latest Zoom meeting with Heads of HR/HRDs. What does the future look like?
It has been two weeks since the last HR briefing and the focus is on recovery and reopening the workplace. But what will it look like? In the main, businesses are forging ahead with their own plans but there is an element of waiting to see what the Government announces in these critical weeks ahead.
Here are the highlights of the discussion.
Return to work
Conversations have turned to the return to work and what it will look like. It’s clear the new norm will be very different. The return, although phased, will be complicated with many variables to consider. Although for the moment the message continues to be work from home, a lot of thought is being given to the future.
All firms are considering whether anyone actually needs to come into the office versus those who may want to come back. There may be location variances, with London being the most complicated because of the travel restrictions and higher risk. Landlords will also dictate how soon offices can be opened – the earliest for some will be mid-June.
Even those who want to get back to the office will not be returning to what they know. They will not be able to go out to have lunch (or together). Desks will be assigned. Some firms are discussing temperature tests before entering the building.
Questionnaires will be used to understand employees’ appetite to return, including how they will travel and their personal circumstances including their mental health, as there will be many who are not working in ideal circumstances including trainees who are sharing flats. Straw polls suggest that trainees and junior staff are the keenest to return but this might not be appropriate if managers, etc, are still at home.
With firms modelling 20-30% capacity (until vaccines are found), questions will be asked whether there is any point in any employee (apart from a few) returning.
The group asked if there are any obligations for employees to return to work or for employers to ask them to do so.
If partners decide to return to work, it may drive others to return to the office too. Queries are being raised, however, as this may not be the correct message.
Most will follow a three-stage plan (globally)
- Everyone continues to work from home
- 25-30% max people in the office
- 33% rotating basis – one week in and two weeks out of four. Life will only return to normal when a vaccine is found.
Inevitably homeworking will continue for the foreseeable and the majority. Therefore, desk assessments and getting infrastructure in place now is sensible. Some firms already looking into this.
In a return-to-work survey, one firm mentioned it is including questions around how employees feel supported and if there is anything else they need, such as help with setting up their homeworking, health & safety, etc.
Firms will continue to allow holiday to be carried forward, up to 10 days. All firms are encouraging employees to take their holiday even in lockdown. Employees are beginning to realise that even later in the year, foreign travel will not be available so there is no point in ‘saving’ holiday. The message from many firms is that employees are being “strongly encouraged” to take a set number of days by end of June (dependent on start of holiday year). Messaging may change with a stronger message to use it or lose it in the coming weeks. For others they are being encouraged to use it in the summer months.
Many trainees are keen to get back to the office. The main concern is for fourth-seat trainees and qualification. All firms are having discussions, but no decisions have yet been firmed up. One firm with September joiners have all found roles in the business, others are considering offering fixed term contracts.
Discussions are underway for 2021 trainee recruitment but again there are no answers. Others are postponing this year’s intake to December or March as they will not have a great experience if they are unable to integrate with the team. Postponement will be for their benefit. No financial package will be offered for the postponement. Others are looking at offering educational opportunities – for example, a mini MBA for the deferral.
The SRA have confirmed that trainees can reduce their working week from 35 hours to 32 hours per week without affecting their training contract. Anything beyond that the SRA has said it would need to change the contracts.
Firms are looking into redeploying staff to busy practice areas. But although this makes sense, it’s a challenge. Some paralegals have been moved into, for example, business acceptance teams and other busy areas. Recruiters have moved into resourcing roles in practice areas and events employees have moved into marcomms roles. For others such moves have been fairly limited.
For any HR professionals from law or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future events, please contact Laura McNair.
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