The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unforeseen and unprecedented challenges for organisations from an employment perspective. While the most tech-savvy and experienced in remote working have been some of the best able to adapt to new working practices, challenges have emerged in other areas.
Returning to the workplace
As countries around the globe have emerged from lockdown at different rates and in different ways, employers across all sectors are having to contemplate how to return their workforces back to the workplace safely, and what a "new normal" might look like for their workplaces in the future. The relationship of trust and confidence between an employer and an employee has become more critical for employers navigating their way through this uniquely complicated landscape.
It is arguably more important now, than ever before, for employers to have meaningful engagement with their workforce and good industrial relations, and to remain flexible and open to review and change plans at short notice. More fundamentally though, employers, with Big Tech names like Twitter and Facebook leading the way, are already reconsidering their existing working arrangements to cater for permanent remote working models, provide more flexibility for their workforce, and attract and retain a more diversified talent pool.
Like other sectors, some tech businesses are having to consider restructuring their workforces in light of lessons learned or the longer-term uncertainties arising from the pandemic and changes to their business models, with some already implementing and planning for redundancies and lay-offs in the short to medium term once the various government support measures come to an end.
The diversity challenge
Diversity remains one of the biggest challenges across the sector. The lack of diversity in tech affects not only workplace cultures, employment models and future talent pools, but also the goods and services the industry creates.
Inequalities and the lack of diversity have been brought to the fore by the pandemic and the global anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd in the U.S.. Both have highlighted that certain groups of workers are more susceptible and at risk than others. Legislators and the judiciary across the globe are actively working to tackle these inequalities too, from the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling barring discrimination against LGBT workers to Japan's new law aimed at preventing harassment in the workplace. For employees with disabilities or associated disabilities, from the BAME community, or those of specific ages, as well as women and pregnant women – employers must consider the impact on these groups and whether adjustments are required as workforces re-open and organisations plan for their future of work.
As workforces slowly return to the workplace, we anticipate whistleblowing and speak up/listen up arrangements to come under closer scrutiny. We are already seeing increasing reports of workers being subjected to a detriment for raising concerns relating to health and safety. It is vital that employers maintain their reporting channels for speaking up, not only in compliance with local laws and obligations, but also as good governance to assist businesses with identifying areas of risk. Employers will want their people on the ground to be their eyes and ears so they can learn from experiences and make changes swiftly.
Leadership and executive pay
Employers across all sectors are already having to take difficult decisions relating to the future of their workforces and their salaries – and tech sector organisations are no exception. Whilst the impact is being felt across the wider workforce, attention is being focused at executive pay and how individuals leading organisations are being impacted financially by the crisis.
Impact on the gig economy
The status of employees, workers and independent contractors in the gig economy remains an ongoing issue across many jurisdictions, as courts and tribunals continue to grapple with the application of their existing legal frameworks. The crisis has intensified the call for gig economy workers to be provided with the same or equivalent safeguards and protections afforded to employees and other workers, including those relating to health and safety, as well as basic employment rights such as sick leave. Throughout 2020 and beyond, we continue to expect further developments, consultations and potential legislative reform – potentially posing some of the most significant changes to employment laws for some jurisdictions in recent times.
Impact for the tech sector
For many businesses, the pandemic has accelerated the adjustment to new ways of working and forced many companies to stress test their agile and remote working arrangements. Broadly, the tech sector has responded well to these changes, but those that were previously sceptical of such ways of working may have a harder time explaining why employees have to be present in the workplace when they can work remotely or flexibly.
New opportunities have also arisen for food delivery platforms, e-commerce sites, and those developing apps and new tech to assist jurisdictions with managing the pandemic. Crises also provide employers with an opportunity in terms of workplace culture, and how employers have reacted to the evolving pandemic and supported their workforces will impact their workplace culture in the long-term.
In this new and complex world of work, maintaining effective communication, driving resilience and adaptability, as well as sustaining employee engagement and trust, has become the ultimate test, and differentiator, of today's leadership. - Laure de Panafieu Asia Head of Employment and Incentives, Partner, Singapore
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