The pandemic has changed all our working lives, probably for ever, with the blurring of lines between homes and offices, children interrupting Zoom calls and informality definitely the way to go.

To help businesses find out how to best capitalise on advantages of these changes, as we come out of the pandemic, North East England Chamber of Commerce has worked with industry experts to look at what the workplace could look like in the coming months.

Arlen Pettitt, Chamber knowledge development manager has drawn up a ‘Future of the Workplace’ report.

He said: “In March we thought we were seeing changes that were only temporary at the time, in the space of just a few weeks many businesses made huge changes in the way they worked. This presents a huge opportunity to be more productive, more efficient and have a greater focus on colleague wellbeing, while being more responsive to their requirements using the options this crisis has unlocked.”

The future job market is crucial to how the region recovers from Covid. In the Chamber report Jo Hand of Middlesbrough-based recruitment business The Human Group set out her views.

She said in her experience potential candidates were tending to stay in their current roles due to the worry of falling foul of the Job Retention Scheme if they are a new employee.

“We are seeing a rise in temporary vacancies within the sectors that have been quieter during the pandemic. Hiring Managers seem to be springing into action and actively recruiting temporary workers alongside permanent ones as well.

“We have no doubt this year and next that we will see a huge rise in vacancies, both temporary and permanent, starting post-Easter. The fastest growing sector will continue to be the Silver Sector as it is called, ie retired professionals going back into the workplace as Interim Consultants.”

The situation of female employees, at all levels, has been impacted by the pandemic. Highlighted in the report are some of the reasons for this shift and what can be done about it.

Dr Mariann Hardey of Durham University has produced extensive research in this field of female career development.

Her findings, in the Chamber report, showed clearly regardless of education, career experience and seniority, women are more adversely affected by the current working conditions and will continue to be post-pandemic.  

She reported substantial evidence of women taking the main burden of childcare, for example, while working full time, to the detriment of their development.

Looking to the future however she sees new opportunities for remote and flexible working that also adequately recognise and support individuals undertaking unpaid care work.

She said: “While remote and flexible working alleviates the need to travel into the workplace, they do not provide targeted support to hard-hit parents. The lack of proper support and policies fails to reflect the divergence in households where women spend three times as many hours as men in unpaid care and domestic work.”   

Working from home has also totally changed the way many people look at their office lives and the type of premises businesses needed going forward.

GT3 Architects contributed their views to the report and saw the future of workplaces being more aligned to becoming a social space rather just a room for 9-5 desk activity. They believe the day of the hot desk is finished, with businesses having specific zones for particular types of work from collaborative meetings to creative hubs.

On the larger scale workplaces such as factories Keith Taylor of UK Land Estates whose portfolio includes Teesside Industrial Park said: “With 87% of households making online purchases last year and online spending on the rise, it’s no surprise that big warehouses, logistics centres and distribution hubs are in hot demand.

“The coronavirus pandemic has also triggered a surge in the number of business start-ups, as entrepreneurs respond to the changing needs of individuals and companies and laid-off or furloughed workers launch their own ventures.”

Some businesses have already made plans to adapt their way of working, including Northern Gas & Power Ltd, who are moving to new offices in the Riga building in Gateshead, with dedicated socialising, collaboration and employee wellbeing at its heart.

So too Crowther Mediation, who pre-pandemic had offices across the region, including Durham, Middlesbrough, Stockton and Darlington, but are now planning to continue offering their civil, family and workplace dispute resolution services virtually where possible.

The full report is available on the Chamber’s website knowledge blog.