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Published on June 16th, 2021 | by The GC Team

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No Going Back?

Only 15% of office-based retail employees want to return to a workplace full time

Embracing hybrid working will be essential to survival in the retail industry after the toughest year ever faced. This is according to research from Fujitsu, which examines the views of UK leaders and employees about the future, and highlights changing sentiments amongst those in the sector.

The report, entitled No Going Back?, provides an assessment into the irreversible work/life shift that has occurred after the coronavirus pandemic forced organisations to reshape their office working processes.

Consumer behaviour has changed and 41% of leaders say they find it challenging keeping up, with future resilience being top of the priority list. In light of the tough time retailers have had, hybrid working is seen as a means of surviving future shocks. No surprise then that 77% of the ‘C-suite’ (senior executives) and 65% of employees felt a hybrid-working model would allow them to be more resilient to similar challenges down the line.

Interestingly, just a week ago John Lewis announced a “Flexible First commitment” under which all job vacancies will be advertised with a flexible working option, unless there is an operational reason why this is not possible. A ‘blended’ working approach for office-based Partners also begins this month, providing staff with choice and flexibility with where and how they work.

The retailer also addressed part-time working, stating that “through an internal Part-Time Advisory Group we’ve identified more ways to support part-time Partners to help them progress in our business. This includes changes to our flexible working policy and reviewing our recruitment processes.”

Escaping a burning platform

Although necessitated by a global pandemic, retailers were, for the most part, able to navigate the move to remote working very successfully and, according to Fujitsu’s report, when it came to implementing digital tools, there was alignment between employees and the C-Suite; 100% of the sector’s C-Suite and 97% of employees reported a well or adequate transition with 59% of employees saying that they were happy with the changes that their organisation made to transform working processes.

However, there have been downsides to remote working in the sector: 78% of those working in retail miss socialising with their colleagues, while 50% felt that they were not provided with the right equipment to work from home. Additionally, 58% feel it is now harder collaborating as part of a team and 40% said they struggle to separate work and home time. Employee mental health is very high on the leadership agenda, with 83% of the C-suite in the sector making it a priority. 

Finding the hybrid balance

The impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is evident, but challenges remain in ensuring employees are supported.

Many C-suites are also worried about how extended time in a remote workplace would impact employees. For example, 57% worried that without face-to-face interaction employees would not feel appreciated in their roles, while 60% were concerned that remote working meant their employees would feel under more scrutiny. 

Considering this, a well-managed hybrid model becomes all the more important. With 53% of leaders saying the changes made to date don’t go far enough, signalling that the hard work starts now for UK organisations to be fully fit for hybrid. 

“Across all roles, there has never been a better opportunity to change”

Commenting on the findings, Nigel Naylor-Smith, Head of Fujitsu’s Retail & Hospitality business, said: “This has been an exceptional past 12 months for retail and hospitality, but it’s clear there’s little benefit in going back to the way things were before the pandemic.

“Office-based employees in the sector are keen to maintain the work/life shift alongside other industries such as financial services. And why not – the technology is available to make remote working successful in the long-term and there are obvious financial benefits, such as space rationalisation, much needed by the sector at this crucial time. Clearly, many roles in the retail and hospitality sectors are not performed remotely, but these can still benefit from new collaborations that help drive inclusion, wellbeing, colleague retention and general operational performance. Across all roles, there has never been a better opportunity to change.

“Looking forward, it’s imperative that leadership teams continue to ensure their workforce are fully equipped when working remotely, or in operational locations, with an open line of communication to iron out any potential pain points around technology, equipment and most of all – focus on colleague wellbeing.”

The ‘No Going Back?’ report can be accessed here.  

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