The Impact of the Pandemic: Working Practices

The Impact of the Pandemic. Do working practices need to change? Is there the expectation that they will? How’s it been for people? The results of our recent survey provide some answers.

Thanks to everyone who completed the BLT ‘How Are You?’ Survey that we ran in December 2020 amongst the Indirect Tax community – fascinating results. Here are the headline conclusions of the questionnaire.

Personal life vs. Professional life? What’s caused individuals the most concern during the Covid crisis?

56% of respondents stated Personal Life

44% of respondents stated Professional Life

  • In case anyone was in any doubt, it would be a mistake for employers to dismiss the stress caused by the pandemic as fundamentally a personal concern, and therefore ‘not their problem’. The fact that such a high proportion of respondents said that their professional life was of greater concern than their personal lives speaks volumes. This is despite being in an environment when people are physically cut off from family and friends in a lockdown situation, and when education for any dependents is so adversely affected.
  • It also goes to show that the effect of the pandemic on the ‘big picture topics’ such as the economy (and consequently world of employment), causes direct feelings of stress to individuals, and for just under half the respondents, this has greater impact than that on their personal lives.

However, when asked what people have most missed, normal personal life is a clear winner at 71% as opposed to 29% preferring normal professional life.

  • People are more nostalgic for their pre-Covid personal life routines and points of contacts, rather than for the old ways of working.
  • Maybe one could surmise that this could validate the possibility for change in ways of working in the future? People aren’t missing the working ways of old as much?

Priorities

Do people feel their priorities have changed during the pandemic? 69% agreed (16% emphatically so), with 31% stating no change.

  • No real surprises there – not least with so much practical change required for a portion of the population – for example childcare and schooling, care of elderly relatives etc.
  • In addition, the pandemic will also have caused some individuals to become more focused on their own personal health and well-being.
  • Maybe more worthy of comment is the high proportion of respondents stating no change! One would imagine that these people feel that they had their balance right to start with? Well done you.

Employers maybe wondering if the change in focus of priorities is a more permanent state of affairs and whether this should be seen as the main catalyst for more long-lasting change? The survey results here are inconclusive – equal numbers of respondents feeling that their priorities have changed permanently as to those who suspect they’ve changed just for the duration of the pandemic. We need to look at another topic aside from priorities to examine whether long-term change of working practices is necessary.

Well-being

When asked how well do people think they have coped during the pandemic:

56% feel they have been pretty resilient

31% feel that the cracks have shown occasionally, but most of the time it’s been fine

9% feel that the cracks have shown regularly, but by and large they’ve bounced back ok

4% stated that they’ve found it really tough.

Effectively, what the results show here is that 44% of us are freely admitting to ‘cracks’ occasionally or more regularly appearing and that approximately 1 in 20 people have been really feeling the strain mentally. If you’re a large company, that’s a large number of your workforce. Mental health and welfare has to be high on your agenda.

How’s Business in Tax?

28% of you feel that the business you work for has performed much the same as before the pandemic. A further 31% feel that your business has done better than expected (with 25% feeling that actually your company has done much better than expected). 41% feel that your business has done worse than normal, but only 9% feeling that the business they work for has done terribly.

  • So looking at it in the round, it sounds like business for those in the tax industry has been the same or a little worse than normal for the majority, but not drastically so. And indeed there seems to be a good number of businesses out there where things have actually gone swimmingly.
  • When asked how much of a concern job security has been, only 6% state that they’re been very worried, with a further 16% admitting to a bit of worry, but hoping for the best.

Good news really – the tax industry, as per usual, has remained comparatively impervious to this last year’s trials and tribulations.

How are companies doing in relation to employee welfare?

71% of respondents feel that their business is doing a good job of looking after their employees, 16% felt that things could have gone better and 13% feel that it’s not been on the agenda. Could be worse I guess.

Working practices

It’s a resounding thumbs up to working from home – this is the real eye-opener which should push change in working practices in the future. 69% of respondents state that they prefer working from home whether full-time or with the occasional trip into an office environment. Only 25% said that they prefer mostly working from an office, with the occasional time at home – this was the norm for most companies before the first lock-down. A further 6% really aren’t keen on working from home at all.

So much for employee preference. But does that translate across when talking about productivity levels (the main reason given by employers for the office based environment)? It seems that’s not an issue from an employee perspective at least – 28% believe that they are most productive spending half their time in the office, half from home, with a further 47% going on to say that they felt that they are more productive spending most of their time working from home. That’s an astonishing mere 25% of respondents saying that they feel that they are more effective in the more office-based working environment of the past. Wow.

Being in an office has its plusses?

But not for the reasons you might think. 33% of respondents said that the thing they most missed about the office were non work related ‘water cooler’ chats. 30% plumped for the lack of demarcation between home and work life. So not really work productivity or business related reasons at all! 23% chose ease of access to other people’s input and only 8% were that bothered about missing being part of a shared sense of vision and aim.

Okay…so if the office isn’t that important for the majority, business will only function if the technology works, right? With only 9% saying they loathe video business meetings and a further 28% saying they’re fine, but prefer face-to-face… that gives the likes of Teams and Zoom a resounding 63% thumbs up from the rest of the working world.

So, do employees expect change?

  • 81% think their employers will be more considerate of employee welfare.
  • 88% think that their employers will be more flexible as to home vs. office working arrangements.

Should there be change? A resounding YES. In summary:

The survey results clearly show that:

  • The impact on the pandemic has caused almost as many points of stress in people’s professional life as it has in their personal lives. This is despite in the majority of cases, there being little impact on the world of tax business as a discipline.
  • These points of stress can cause cracks in their interactions at work, and presumably therefore an employee’s effectiveness.
  • Employee welfare should therefore be even higher on the agenda than before the pandemic to maintain a workforce that functions at it’s best.

In addition:

  • Employees prefer working from home and think they’re more effective working that way.
  • Employees expect change.

88% of respondents said they were feeling optimistic about life going forward. Here at BLT, we rather suspect that they may be less cheerful if they find that their employers are not prepared to acknowledge that the world of work is going to look very different going forward.

To discuss any of the points raised in this article, do get in touch with Guy Barrand at BLT – gnb@blt.co.uk

GNB Article


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