The new normal

The new normal

Digitization gives a boost for employers struggling to attract staff

New generation integrated solutions are an important answer to labour shortage problems, writes Maxxess managing director, Lee Copland

The UK jobless rate is now close to a fifty year low according to the latest ONS figures (May 2022, Office for National Statistics) and employers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire the workers they need.

The signs of stress are obvious in many sectors – from long queues at airports and cancelled flights, to overstretched services in healthcare, social care, hospitality, logistics and retail.

We’re seeing a similar picture across Europe. Here, too, airports and carriers have been struggling to readjust as demand for international travel bounces back from the lockdowns of the last two years. In Germany, a temporary foreign workers scheme may be introduced.

But amid the turmoil we’re seeing an interesting attitude shift among employers. Despite the cost-of-living crisis, increased pay is not seen as the most important answer for organisations struggling to fill vacancies. Instead, they are looking at a mix of efficiency gains and employee benefits aside from pay.

The appeal of improved working conditions

Offering improved working conditions, with more flexible home and hybrid working, is now a preferred solution for many according to the HR professionals’ body, the CIPD.

Employers recognise that when staff are weighing up the benefits of a job – whether to stay in their current one, whether to take a new one - they are factoring is cost-savings from reduced commuting, savings that come from being able to manage their time more efficiently, and hidden benefits such as reduced stress and hassle.

These employee motivations really matter. The CIPD’s latest quarterly outlook – a snapshot taken in April - shows that many organisations are still struggling to attract the people they need. In fact, two-thirds of UK employers expect to have difficulties filling posts over the next six months, and a third expect those difficulties to be severe.

But even so, only 27% of employers believed raising wages would help them manage the problem (down from 44% on the previous quarter). Instead, 37% now said they were looking to upskill existing staff, and to introduce flexible working conditions.

The picture is still mixed, with other recent surveys point to record high starting salaries for some posts at least. But there can be no doubting that flexible and hybrid working are becoming the established norm in many sectors, for example in IT, communications, scientific services and professional services generally.

Moving away from default office attendance

The US, the UK and Canada appear to be ahead of Europe in this move away from the old model of fixed desks and default Monday-to-Friday office attendance.

Recent Google mobility data shows that commuter traffic in the UK is down by 22% on pre-COVID levels, compared with 7% down in Germany and 6% in Italy. Data from the US and Canada indicates a commuting decline similar to the UK’s.

A swath of data around city centre footfall and building occupancy rates, as well as employee attitude surveys, all points in the same direction. In London, for example, where commuting costs are higher, some surveys show traffic down by over 40%.

While this this may be for some sectors of the economy – and a reason why some newspaper proprietors may be keen to stir up a ‘back to the office’ argument – if managed smartly, it is good news for many employers and their people.

The reshaping of corporate systems and infrastructure that we are now seeing - steadily rolling-out in support of hybrid working - is not just reactive.

The same automations and efficiencies that have been deployed to make it easier for people to work remotely, and to visit premises flexibly, are also driving wider productivity benefits.

The benefits of enhanced access control and visitor management

Upgrading access control and implementing visitor management solutions employers are finding that they can remove many of the old annoyances and inconveniences that employees, contractors, and other site visitors had to put up with every time they arrived on site and had to pass through security.

Now, these visitors benefit from touchless, frictionless access. At the same time the organization benefits, with integration of HR databases, scheduling systems and security, allowing once cumbersome processes to be streamlined.

The next generation solutions are going further by strengthening and extending the connections between remotely-based teams and the corporate centre. For example, bringing together key systems and integrating them with Microsoft Active Directory and other core office data tools lets organisations manage access to multiple, dispersed physical premises - and access to networks - much more effectively.

Cutting out inefficiencies in busy work settings

These solutions are already cutting out the inefficiencies of siloed technologies in busy workplaces from hospitals and hospitality to logistics hubs.

And, as we wrote recently, it’s now possible to integrate AI-powered facial recognition with these solutions. The result is not just improved security at physical premises – with facial recognition providing a powerful ID option - but improved network security and more secure home working too. The same technology is enabling better two-way engagement between employees and employers. Are people taking breaks from their desks? Are they working longer hours that they should be, or still working at the weekend when they should be resting?  Do they want to report a concern anonymously? Do they need emergency help?

Wherever these new, improved two-way communications and engagement technologies have been deployed well, the feedback from the staff using them is positive.  It’s working well the other way around too, and this is a crucial point: these tools are becoming essential for department managers who are worried that their staff aren’t being as productive or innovative as they were when they were office based. Measuring and demonstrating efficiency and proactivity gains – or falls – by showing times employees are actively using applications and delivering output. This can signal to managers when team members need support, reward, inspiration, or corrective action. At the same time, it gives bosses the peace of mind they have the right tools to ensure they meet their duty of care obligations and can be alerted in the event of a home or remote working safety incident.

And because these solutions don’t come with a high price tag, employers are reckoning they are a smart way to reducing staff turnover, making employees feel valued, and helping them to work more efficiently. With staffing pressures unlikely to end soon, it’s a good investment for the long term too. Solutions being developed now, which are cutting edge and futureproofed, will soon be providing a proven model for others to follow – and as economic conditions tighten, that could be very timely. So, watch this space.

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