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Building business resilience: how to thrive in the new world of work

Clare Alexander is our Head of Business Models and Workplace Innovation. She shares the steps your company can take to be resilient in the new business landscape, as well as her tips on building a stronger, happier and healthier workforce.

Clare Alexander, Head of Business Models and Workplace Innovation, Scottish Enterprise

What is business resilience?

Recent events have forced the entire world to change how it works, and we're continuing to adjust to a new reality in our professional and personal lives. We often hear media commentators talking about building a resilient workforce - but what does the word 'resilience' mean in this context? And how does it apply to your workforce? 

Resilience can take various forms – it's a company's ability to recover its size and way of working after being strained or compressed. It’s also the way it can adapt easily to misfortune or change. It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic presented businesses with the most urgent need to be resilient in recent history. Most of all, it highlighted employee well-being and innovation as a business' core strength.

Indeed, research has shown that better-managed organisations survived and thrived through past economic crises, and in today's turbulent environment. The events of recent years have accelerated three crucial elements of resilience:

  • Digital transformation
  • Workforce reskilling
  • Innovation

As we move forward, all three will require significant experimentation and learning by managers, providing a new opportunity to build better workplaces.

We’re helping businesses reimagine how and where they work as well as empowering managers everywhere to effect lasting change.

Workplace innovation and Fair Work practices

Workplace innovation is an effective way for your business to recover its shape and size following the stresses of the pandemic. It can also enhance your competitive edge.

It’s about creating a culture of innovation in which staff are fully engaged and supported to reach their potential. Ensuring your managers help team members to develop beyond their role is increasingly important – the connection between good management practices and productivity is well established. 

Considering the changes brought about by these unprecedented times, ensuring optimal conditions for businesses to transition from survival to growth is more important than ever. We can help you to create a profitable, efficient, and responsive business which is also aligned to Fair Work practices, as set out by the Scottish Government.

Planning for change

There are principles and measures that every employer should consider as we emerge from the pandemic. These seven key principles of fair work should form part of your resilience planning: employee voice, security, respect, opportunity, fulfilment, flexible and family friendly working, and the rejection of fire and rehire practices.

To deepen our engagement with companies around Fair Work practices, we can work with you to:

  • Help review your working practices to support employee engagement and well-being
  • Provide guidance on developing your company's culture
  • Identify your company's training needs or solutions for leaders, managers, and employees through our partners at Skills Development Scotland
  • Connect you to our networks and contacts to demonstrate Fair Work and innovative practices
  • Encourage companies to develop a workforce plan, talent management and HR strategies

Business resilience checklist

Successful businesses thrive on motivated workforces. It’s important that leaders invest efforts to rebuild workplace morale. Communication with your people is key – listen to their needs.

Keeping staff informed of what your business is doing – whether it's good or bad news for individuals – will help them to plan and make their own decisions, giving them some degree of security in very uncertain times. Explore ways to enhance your team’s well-being and performance.

Knowing they are valued and supported by you, their employer – and that you continue to prioritise their health and safety – will be pivotal to their well-being.

Take a Snapshot or Pulse survey to find out what the key concerns and challenges are for your staff regarding returning to work and ensure you consider these in your planning.

Prior to the pandemic, as little as 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home and more than 70% had never worked at home (the CIPD Good Work Index 2021).

There are many ways you can improve your workplace culture and environment. Allow new and more effective ways of working to flourish by encouraging cross-functional collaboration and painting a clear vision of the future.

What can be done on site, from the office or from home? If you’re a service-based business, consider if flexible working and working from home as a longer-term model may bring you greater productivity benefits. If you’re a product-based business or manufacturer, you may wish to  think about your workforce in three categories:

  • Location - dependent - required to be on-site with exceptions for flexible work 
  • Remote - full-time off-site
  • Flexible - a hybrid approach to on-site and remote work 

Although remote options may not be possible for many of those in production roles, there are things you can do to offer greater flexibility – for example, encouraging plant engineers to work with their managers to determine work that can be performed off-site, such as project management and data analysis.

For those required to be on-site, ensure they get the necessary support to do their work effectively and safely and provide policies for personal time and family leave support.

What we’ve realised through this experience is that flexible and remote working is possible for more roles than previously considered, and that some of the off-site work can be completed while maintaining the same level of quality and output.

Increased flexibility and new working practices are going to be essential in ensuring a culture where management practices enable staff to develop and work beyond their role.

We can support your company to consider its workforce planning by asking yourself questions like:

  • Which teams are essential?
  • How do teams interact with each other?
  • How can jobs be redesigned as multiskilled to reduce the number of different roles in the workplace?
  • What flexibility do staff need? 

Most importantly, the role of management practices will take centre stage in enhancing business performance and building a productive workforce.

The risks to people's health are psychological as well as physical.

Some staff may take more time than others to adjust, and it’s likely that most people will need a period of readjustment for work-life balance. 

Some members of staff may still have concerns about travelling to work on public transport – and services may not be as readily available as they were pre-pandemic. Flexibility around start and finish times, as well as working patterns, will be essential. 

If your business has an employee assistance programme or access to occupational health advisers, make staff aware of the services they can provide. 

As workers adapt to the changed world of work, managers need to have a sensitive and open discussion with every individual and discuss any adjustments or ongoing support they may need to facilitate an effective return to the workplace.

Support should cover topics such as: 

  • Changes in company services or procedures
  • How specific customer queries or issues are being addressed
  • Changes in supply arrangements
  • Any changes to their work duties or tasks 

Along with our partners at Skills Development Scotland, we can help you fill any skills or training gaps, including support to embed new staff into your organisation.

It's now even more important for every employer to ensure that the organisation's culture is inclusive, and that every employee feels they are working in a supportive and caring environment.

Recent global challenges have had an unequal impact across the workforce in many ways – different groups of employees, and individuals, will have been affected in diverse ways according to their job role and individual circumstances.

It’s key that organisations foster an inclusive and fair working environment. Managers need to be sensitive to any underlying tensions and confidently anticipate and prevent any potential conflict. Ask yourself – is my approach to leadership and management compassionate?

One of the consequences of a changed world of work is that employers are now having to think about how they use technology differently, how they access different talent pools (when the labour market is so tight) and what gives them a competitive edge in terms of recruitment.

We continue to see a real appetite from Scottish companies to consider different, more progressive business models. The impact of the pandemic has led businesses to appreciate themselves as whole entities, rather than various moving parts. 

Indeed, wearing my other hat, as Head of Co-operative Development Scotland, I can see an increasing number of businesses considering alternative business models.

Collaboration and consortium working provide opportunities for businesses experiencing economic difficulties. Working together allows you to streamline processes, reduce costs and your carbon footprint, share risks and create new platforms for growth both in the UK and internationally.

From a location or place perspective, Covid-19 brought into sharp focus the importance of community assets, such as the local shop, and how these can be a vital resource to communities. This business model gives people the tools they need to preserve essential public services. It can also bring exciting new business opportunities with wider social and environmental advantage

I’d encourage businesses and communities in Scotland to consider inclusive business models and connect with Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) for support.

How we can help

We've all had to adapt our ways of working. To support this ongoing journey, we're running a number of online programmes to deliver workplace innovation, leadership and management development support.

We’ve placed a greater emphasis on using existing learning platforms, breakout groups, online chat and real-time video of our participants. We also encourage attendees to ‘pre-read’ ahead of our sessions.

While this can't beat face to face contact in the same location, it's a good alternative option. And we’ve had feedback that companies are keen to access support and development from us in this way.

You can also access support through the Find Business Support websiteopens in a new window and the coronavirus business support helpline 0300 013 3385.

Contact us

Got a question about building resilience and thriving in the new and changing landscape? Chat with us.

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