As we prepare to commit to a culture that works for all, in the office or out of it, 2022 will be a year when management is forced to redefine itself, for the better says Richard Mabey
New working patterns are creating a radically different landscape for business in 2022. For each sector, the demands of remote and hybrid work will push leaders to redress the balance between flexibility and in-office supervision and management, and much of this has been done with little guidance for business owners. Into the new year, we expect businesses will be learning and responding to the new challenges of a world ready to open up.
Opportunities for new demographics
In the UK, 27% of workers already had some experience of working remotely by 2019, and those in the capital were most likely to be ahead of the curve. During the pandemic, that number increased to only 37%, suggesting that knowledge workers were already heading in the remote direction when offices closed.
Two years later, the effect of ‘normalising’ flexible working cannot be overstated. Half of UK employees wanted to work flexibly before 2020, though only 9.8% of employers made any concessions. By May 2021, the number of UK job ads accommodating remote work had soared to treble what it was in February 2020.
Where workers formerly risked being penalised for requesting flexibility, companies have hurriedly become accustomed to the varied experiences of their employees outside of work. The pandemic has heightened sensitivity to health concerns, giving new priority to occupational health and funnelling resources towards understanding staff. The precedent of flexible hours/days has allowed mothers, fathers and carers to continue working while meeting other obligations. At Juro, we have a robust parental leave policy and provide private health insurance too, but the challenge will remain for early stage companies to provide this support.
The normalcy of remote and hybrid work has created opportunities for demographics previously left behind. Those forced out of full-time employment by other commitments, most commonly childcare or caring responsibilities, has led the push for more flexibility in the office until it was granted in March 2020. In the new year, we can expect companies operating with some degree of flexibility to hire more inclusively, making true and legitimate provisions for workers whose circumstances outside of work have historically limited their freedoms.
This has the potential to redefine the workforce as we know it, enabling millions to make new decisions about how and where they work. In the build-up to 2020, as many as 76% of US homemakers said they would return to work if able to work from home, and 74% if offered flexible hours.
Remote work has not been without its flaws. In the first months of lockdown, working women reported higher rates of burnout as work-life balances slipped, and many judged ‘WFH’ to be detrimental to their professional relationship building. A majority of young people also felt their careers had stalled during the switch to remote work and the average age of burnout fell to 32, pinned primarily on enforced working from home practises.
But 2022 gives businesses around the world the opportunity to reform. Those who can successfully harness the balance of hybrid work will be able to offer a revitalised workforce the incentive of flexibility and the support needed to operate from any corner of the world without jeopardising their employer’s corporate identity. At the heart of this will be open lines of communication with staff, a well-staffed and tech-enabled HR team, and reinforced messaging around workplace expectations and shared values.
The new connectivity
By any historical standard, the global era has made it easier for talent to work around the world, hopping not between companies and countries. At least, until 2020. But after two years indoors, the businesses able to facilitate a healthy environment for remote or hybrid work will benefit from a widening pool of top talent overseas.
Those who get company culture right will, in 2022, be able to recruit employees who fit with their ethos regardless of where in the world they may be based. In turn, this will push regional employers to start competing with international trends; if top candidates in some countries are more likely to apply for jobs where salary ranges are listed (and they are), and as we do at Juro, then international employers hoping to compete will have to respond to global staff demands. Global employees will still prioritise pay but, with the cost of living varying by country, are more likely to congregate around demand for new incentives in professional development, quality hardware and software, and networking opportunities.
Top talent looking to join early-stage companies in 2022 will expect the option of remote or hybrid work. Where previously this working arrangement was perhaps more common with a narrower profile – designers and engineers, for example, in 2022 almost any role, from sales and marketing to executive leadership, will likely have experience of remote working.
Of course, some industries will benefit from these trends more than others. Creatives are likely to have found they need more contact hours with clients and colleagues to communicate their best ideas. In tech, by contrast, we can expect less resistance to the move towards fluid, global business. Wider trends such as mixed-use office buildings and international coworking spaces will help companies optimise their commitments on a budget: today, even the smallest company can guarantee new hires a warm, fully-equipped office in London, New York, Lisbon and Buenos Aires, open 24 hours a day, from around $400 per month.
Tying it all together, the successful businesses in 2022 will be those comfortable with documenting and communicating processes clearly, drawing in all staff to build a culture around shared and transparent values. They will also be those building a working environment to accommodate flexible working without discriminating between talent in physical or remote hubs. The challenge will be to understand entirely the concerns facing employees with greatly varying home lives, and to offer bespoke packages that can be adapted for a truly global workforce.
It is difficult to imagine how fundamentally the changes of the last two years will impact business in 2022. While we can expect to see a burst of post-pandemic optimism among investors and end-users, it won’t be long before hard economic realities will bite. Wage inflation and spiralling energy prices will present challenging headwinds impacting on running costs and profit margins. And the mass adoption of remote and flexible working will present further challenges for small business owners seeking to build the best teams for their budget.
Yet flatter management structures and more inclusive company cultures will have the potential to create, incentivise and develop a broader talent-base who will be keen to skill up and make the most of their lives. There’s scarcely been a better time to be an entrepreneur with the access to technology and more flexible funding models to realise our ideas, with every area from fintech to contract software attracting heavy investment. As we move into the new year prepared to commit to a culture that works for all, in the office or out of it, business leaders must view transient and hybrid workers as equals, and business partners, rather than downstream employees. 2022 will be a year when management is forced to redefine itself, for the better.
Richard Mabey, is co-founder of Juro. Richard was previously a corporate and M&A lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. In 2019, FT Intelligent Business named Richard as one of the top ten legal technologists globally. Richard has an MBA from INSEAD.