Nadine Tewfik-Saad: Will working in London ever be the same again?

Nadine Tewfik-Saad: Will working in London ever be the same again?

Change to the world of work in London, as many of us will have known it, is inevitable. As workers and decision-makers anticipate and seek to prepare for this change, we must look to the opportunities we can grasp.

Phasing back into work will bring challenges on a number of levels, beyond social distancing and general anxiety about the virus. Organisations across London will be forced to adapt to new realities, both due to the impacts they will already have experienced and in terms of the new context in which they will need to operate. The necessary skill sets and manpower pose serious questions for many employers, and difficult choices lie ahead. Evaluating and working on individual and organisational resilience is critical.

In reality, the future of many jobs is far from certain. It is more important than ever to look to opportunities for retraining, up-skilling and innovative ways of working. The challenges of climate change and digital transformation are already changing workplace skills, needs and roles. As London moves beyond lockdown, additional considerations will be brought to the fore. Its skills system and workforce must be able to respond.

Understanding changing consumer values will be vital. A shift in public attitudes, coupled with the urgency of new needs, has quickly moved our focus onto adding value in new ways. From Barbour to Kurt Geiger, brands have led the way in delivering practical solutions. Research by FleishmanHillard Fishburn found that over half of fieldwork respondents expect to change their purchasing behaviour as a result of the pandemic.

Internally, leaders are also thinking about the need to adapt to changing perspectives. The outbreak of Covid-19 has placed empathy, community and a focus on what really matters to us as individuals centre stage. This presents real opportunities to assess how organisational cultures and leadership approaches can adapt to create healthier, more positive environments.

It is time we moved beyond merely discussing the benefits of improved work-life balance and wellbeing for people, organisations and the wider economy, and started putting them into practice. With so many of us now set up to work remotely and adapting to this new norm, conversations are already being had about more flexible working patterns after the pandemic. Necessity has forced organisations to review their infrastructure and adapt to ways of working they may not have thought plausible even at the start of 2020. Suggestions of a prospective role reversal between home and office no longer seem unthinkable. Getting the right infrastructure in place will be vital.

Recognising how many roles do not need to be office-based could mean quite significant changes to everyday life in London. In addition to more home working, the scope for increased outsourcing and offshoring has the potential to alter London’s daytime population considerably. Consequent reviews of workspace and overheads could create very different places. Changing commuting patterns, coupled with a general move towards healthier and more sustainable travel, would impact the day-to-day public transport experience.

The capital therefore faces the prospect of a very different future in the years to come. Many unknowns lie ahead, but anticipating and planning for these scenarios is crucial. The ability of London’s workforce to bounce back from the impacts of this crisis will be a critical test of resilience. Strategic leadership and planning on private, public and individual levels will be key to getting it on the right track.

Nadine Tewfik-Saad is a senior public affairs practitioner in London. She originally published this article herself at Linked In. Follow Nadine on Twitter. Photograph by Omar Jan.

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