This week we look at Finland’s attempt to shorten working days, vocational training taking a hit due to COVID-19, and how remote work impacts the local economy and workers.
#1. Finland’s PM calls for shortening working hours
In May, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a shorter work week due to COVID-19. This week, the Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin joined the debate by (re)embracing shorter workdays. While Marin had previously advocated for a six-hour workday, in her speech to the Social Democratic party earlier this week, she fell short of specifying how short the workdays in Finland should be. According to Reuters, Marin said shorter workdays could improve workers’ work-life balance. With the emphasis on flexibility, the idea of shorter workdays is in line with the findings of our own research that looked into workers’ expectations for the post-COVID era. Three in four employees want to retain flexibility over their working hours in the future, and 67% of them would like their employers to revisit the length of their working days.
#2. Remote working has levelled a lot of organisational hierarchy
Reflecting on how COVID-19 has changed business-employee relations, Accenture’s Audrey O’Mahony has underlined the importance of putting people first. “One of our key goals was to ensure our people had a sense of belonging and that they felt supported”, said the company’s managing director in talent and organisation in an interview with Silicon Republic. O’Mahony listed three critical recommendations to help businesses support their employees: (1) communicate regularly and honestly; (2) ensure work activities are linked to the overarching purpose and; (3) be more human. She added that the shared experience of remote working had levelled a lot of organisational hierarchy, making it indispensable for managers and leaders to demonstrate how genuinely they care for their team members.
#3. Vocational training collapse sparks skills gap fears
The UK has seen a 52% drop in apprenticeships year-on-year. According to The Telegraph, the situation is expected to get worse before it gets better. “It’s not just the fall in the number of people starting apprenticeships but the type of starts we are seeing,” warns Simon Ashworth from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers. Many of the apprenticeships go to older people who already have jobs and are just being upskilled, leaving many young people cut off from future career prospects. And while the UK government has offered incentives – to the tune of £2,000 for each apprentice aged under 25 – two-thirds of manufacturers have put some or all of their wider training on hold. Worse still, only 44% of SMEs are planning to recruit an apprentice before May 2021.
#4. Returning the staff to the office is vital for local economies
Fifty of the biggest UK employers questioned by BBC have said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future. Globally, many companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have put in place plans that will postpone the return of their employees back to the office until late this year or indefinitely. But while many employees are happy to continue to work remotely, there are many downsides to this. For instance, local businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants that depend on office workers as their main clientele are currently struggling to make ends meet. Similarly, young people without the appropriate equipment and space at home to work comfortably would prefer to work from their offices. In the absence of permanent solutions, many businesses and workers will find it difficult to adjust to this new normal in the short-term.
#5. Statistics show remote workers are frustrated and suffer from loneliness
One way of improving people’s remote work experience is to invest in digital transformation, argues Chris Westfall of Forbes. An interesting survey by Nulab shows that a staggering 72% of those working from home are not working from a dedicated office space. That means they work from their living rooms, bedrooms, or kitchens. Worse still, 40% of remote workers aren’t even working from a dedicated desk and often find themselves working from their bed or sofa. Thus, working remotely puts a lot of pressure on people, and their mental health, and many people struggle with loneliness. Research from Gallup suggests that loneliness can affect both personal and professional well-being. In particular, young people are being impacted more than other groups, with nearly 45-50% having reported a decline in their mental health.