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Have you noticed it’s business as usual?

by Steve Preston

It’s time to shake up and revitalise the new normal’   

The last few months have seen some drastic changes for most industries and now that the dust has settled many leaders are able to look at their employees and see that they have adapted admirably with productivity levels stabilising in the ‘new normal’. Remote working has been embraced for most non-essential staff leading to innovation and the use of video conferencing to manage teams and projects. Managers have embraced new ways to motivate remote teams and new interviewing techniques and even onboarding processes have been developed to welcome new employees.  

In the immortal words of many a military leader, ‘Improvise. Adapt. Overcome’ have been the name of the game for most with exceptional results. 

For some, the story has not been a happy one, many organisations have ceased trading all together and 85% of all remaining UK businesses have applied for some form of government scheme, including 76% of businesses for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, 59% have applied for Deferring VAT payments and 29% for business rate holidays. HRMC has revealed that this amounts to 6.3m jobs by 800,000 companies, not to mention the devastating effect the virus has had on those working in the hospitality and tourism industries. 

However, for many organisations, with the lifting of some of the lockdown measures announced came the decision to tentatively bring some staff back from furlough, myself included. Many recruiters are seeing a return to demand in candidates as job orders are placed and companies begin to return to their recruitment strategies laid out earlier in the year. 

Understandably, there has also been a rise in demand for contractors as companies forge ahead with projects and initiatives but mitigate the cost by deciding against a permanent hire, with the engineering and construction industries leading the way.  

The rise of the contractor? 

With a swathe of contract workers forging ahead and returning to work, it’s time to re-examine their worth and value in the world of industry. Often misconstrued as an expensive alternative to a team of permanent hires due to their higher day rates, contractors are actually a valuable resource of in-depth knowledge and diverse experience. Additionally, given this high level of experience, contractors are able to contribute to a project quicker than onboarding a new permanent employee, and are therefore a more cost-effective solution as they can often complete projects in a timely manner. 

A mixture of contractors and permanent employees is going to be the key for many organisations in allowing them to scale their workforce to survive and prosper in the coming months and even after COVID-19. We’ve highlighted insights on the benefits of contract employees in our latest report, Navigating Change, Enabling Business: How Contractors Help Agile Organisations Move at Pace

Is this the new normal? Yes! 

Your employees have settled into their routines now and everyone has become used to the new normal. Based on the UK government’s projections, there could be a full return to work for September of this year. However, there are no two ways about it, COVID-19 has changed the way we view the office and about how we work. 

Flexible working is likely to remain a large part of many corporate structures which has the added benefits of: 

  • Boosting morale as employers demonstrate their trust in employees to self-motivate and manage their time 
  • Greater communication between teams and departments as employees overcompensate for the physical distance 
  • Strong leadership has emerged to coordinate disparate teams, departments, or offices 
  • A better empathy for working together with inter-continental offices via telecommunication 
  • Helping working parents juggle full-time work and childcare 
  • Levelling the playing field for those with health conditions or impairments 
  • Reducing yearly overheads as flexible working spaces are cost-effective alternatives to pricey rented offices, particularly in cities 

Although we will probably never say goodbye to the traditional concept of the office forever, it’s very important for structuring a company culture and imparting an impression of professionalism on potential clients etc., it will certainly have to adapt to suit the post-COVID-19 outlook on working together.  

How should business leaders approach the coming months? 

Although the majority of us are used to the ‘new normal’ of things now, it is still important that business leaders take the time to try and boost morale again and maintain productivity levels. It is likely that many will see a dip in productivity as the novelty of working from home wears off and that drive to contribute at the same level to projects and work is overtaken by the allure of personal belongings and distractions.  

Many senior level managers found great success in the initial phases of the lockdown in motivating teams using the following: 

  • Creating social spaces in team meetings for everyone to catch up 
  • Implementing new incentive schemes and competitions 
  • Maintaining a focus on career progression and personal development 
  • More frequent one-on-one catch ups and reviews 

However, considering that these are no longer new and exciting techniques it could be time to re-examine your arsenal of motivation schemes and throw some new ones in the mix, particularly when bringing people back from furlough or bringing in contractors. 

Four new motivational techniques to boost morale and productivity: 

Give employees the chance to lead.

This is a great follow on from those continued discussions of career progression. Allowing and encouraging employees to take on new tasks or develop better leadership skills will reaffirm your confidence in them.

Evaluate the positives of last few months.

Having an open conversation about the positives that have come out of the last few months of remote working will reinvigorate your employees to maintain productivity levels. Giving praise where praise is due will go a long way and remember – this is the hardest and best work anyone has ever done during a pandemic situation! Your team adapted and overcame a completely unprecedented occurrence for which they were unprepared for.

Share a new vision with them.

Senior management are bound to have reconsidered the priorities of your organisation and found a new direction to ensure success in the future to counter the dip in revenue for the first quarter of this year. If this has resulted in a new vision for the future or a new attitude, share this with your team as it will show a reassuring commitment to the continuation of the organisation.

Celebrate the wins.

If your team has managed to engage a new client or completed a project in time or under budget – organise some way to celebrate remotely. This lets your team or staff know that they are all working towards the same thing; survival and success and they are the key to doing it. This could be in the form of a team coffee session or raising a drink together via video conferencing on a Friday.


Where there’s no one-size-fits all strategy for motivating your team, a combination of some or all of the above techniques should help keep your team feeling positive and motivated towards building a dynamic future for your company.  

One of the most important things to consider when reintegrating your furloughed staff back into the remote working routine is how you are going to brief them on any developments that happened whilst they were away and communicating to them what the future holds. This is an excellent time to draw your workforce in and actively include them in the decision-making process, giving them a stake in the future of your organisation. This could take the form of inviting them to propose incentive schemes or suggest improvements to current systems and processes to ensure better efficiency and productivity for the future. 

With the return to work on the horizon, or a return to adapting and evolving the ‘new normal’ again, it is going to be interesting to see how businesses handle the coming few months. A balance will have to be struck for many between the full return to the physical workplace full of permanent staff, and a partially remote workforce that utilises contract and interim staff to offset skills and costs. No sound predictions can be made at this stage but it is clear that there will be further change in the future to the way we work and what the ‘new-new normal’ will look like remains to be seen. Strong leadership and adaptability will be the cornerstones of success to guide businesses of varying sizes through the second phase of the COVID-19 response.