October 19, 2023

How to Deal with High Absence Rates in the Workplace

Sickness absence rates in the UK have risen to a 10-year high, with employees now averaging 7.8 days off in the past year, compared to the pre-pandemic rate of 5.8 days. These figures are revealed in a comprehensive survey conducted by the CIPD and Simplyhealth which sheds light on the growing issue of absenteeism in the UK workplace.

Stress As A Leading Cause

The study identifies stress as a significant factor contributing to absences, with a staggering 76% of respondents reporting stress-related absences in their organisations over the past year.  The survey showed that mental health issues played a role in both short-term absences (39%) and long-term absences (63%).

We spoke to the HR & People Experts on the Connect Three team to dig deeper into why this might be happening and what businesses could do to support their teams.

1. Long Hours in Unhappy Workplaces

Colin Lamb, our Founder and Chief Explorer, believes the new ways that we are working is a cause of employee burnout and absenteeism:

“We are now operating in a more complex working environment where we are working physically, virtually, and hybrid. This increased complexity is more demanding on people.” He says.

Susan McRoberts echoes his concerns: “One of the biggest challenges in our new way of working is that there is no 'downtime'.  Previously, if you worked longer hours your manager would encourage you to take the time back, that's more difficult to do now.”

So how do we help to combat this predilection to overwork that people are facing?  Colin is passionate that it is the business’s responsibility to reduce overwork, wither by changing how we operate, or taking advantage of digital technologies. He continues; “Organisations need to do more to support their teams with a strong wellbeing strategy including financial, social, physical focus areas.”

2. Understaffed and Overworked

The report cited Heavy workloads as the primary cause of stress-related absences at 67%, but what is causing the increase in pressure on employees? Yvonne Anderson works closely with a number of our high-growth clients, and she believes the workload could be down to the imbalance she is seeing between many companies’ growth aspirations and the workforce available to meet these demands.

She says: “I’m seeing companies that are focused on growth, but do not have the people to deliver the extra work that we are demanding.  We are seeing people leaving and others having to pick up their work, while recruitment strategies fail.”

The solution is not to shy away from growth, however.  Yvonne believes that through better resource planning and changing approaches to recruiting, businesses can tackle heavy workloads.  “Rather than waiting for the ideal candidate, businesses should focus on training and development, attraction and retention; on improving working environments for the people they have, and attracting the people they need.”

3. Poor Management

As the report highlighted, Poor Management Styles accounted for 37% of stress-related absences, which is certainly something that our explorer Teresa Robertson agrees with.  “Poor Management style is always a major contributor to employee stress,” she says, “whether it is caused by company culture, or a lack of training for their managers, it is always a factor.”  Like Yvonne, Teresa highlights the importance of investing in learning and development to support and upskill managers in their roles, and how better management is absolutely vital in reducing stress in the workplace.

4. Poor Management of Absence

As well as solving the causes, Susan Crawford believes that more focus is needed on how companies are managing absences, something she is passionate about solving. 

She says, “Many managers are not equipped to manage absence, especially absence linked to mental wellbeing.  Poor management of absence in the first place almost endorses people being off, and puts more pressure on others in the teams.  This can lead to others burning out, getting frustrated, and even having to take time off too.  More has to be done to equip our managers with how to manage absence more effectively.” 

Is Stress Really on The Increase?

The rate of absences may be increasing, but we could question whether stress as the leading cause has increased as dramatically as the report suggests.  Is it that more that people are more willing to acknowledge mental health as a reason for their absences rather than masking it behind other explanations?

Vicky O’Connor believes this could be the case.  She has seen a positive shift in attitudes towards mental health in the workplace. “There has been a big change in how mental health is viewed at work.  It's become more acceptable to talk about it since the pandemic, and acknowledge it as the reason for health and performance issues.”

There is No Quick Fix

Vicky also points out that since there's often no quick fix for the issues people face at work, they can have a prolonged impact on overall wellness and contribute to stress-related illnesses.

She says; “Mental health is a huge area with so many moving parts, which is one reason that many managers and workplaces are still not well educated around and don't know how to deal with it appropriately.  We need to see a focus on supporting people as individuals, and being flexible within the boundaries of policy and practice to support people back to work.”

If you are concerned about absences in your workplace, get in touch with our HR team.  We can offer coaching and support to help you to prioritise the health and happiness of your teams, without compromising on your organisation’s growth and sustainable future.

March 14, 2022

Surviving the Great Reshuffle

In September 2021, the number of job vacancies in the UK surpassed one million, creating a new record for the market, and around 69% of UK workers have said that they are “feeling confident about moving to a new role in the next few months” according to a recent survey by Randstad UK.  This combination of events has lead to two major challenges for UK businesses:

  1. How do you retain and engage the talent you currently have in your organisation?
  2. How do you attract and recruit candidates when everyone else is trying to do the same?

What is happening?

While the Great Resignation implies people are leaving the workforce, a large group of workers are simply reconfiguring what their careers look like.  Some are leveraging the current hiring crisis to get into better positions; others have decided to work for themselves; many more are shifting into new industries and careers that offer higher wages or align more with their values. Rather than merely being a ‘Great Resignation’ in which people simply quit and walk away, the current disruption is seeing a huge proportion of employees move around the job market – more like a ‘Great Reshuffle’ as some have dubbed it.

Why is it happening?

Professional workers have agency like they have never had before, allowing them to fine-tune their life to allow for a better work-life balance.  Plenty of time at home has given people time to reflect on where their careers are heading and to make deliberate choices for their future.

Additionally, opportunities opened up by remote work mean millions of workers can now access thousands of new roles which were previously ‘off-limits’ due to geography.  As a means of attracting talent, many employers are either adapting their working models to hybrid or fully remote, or offering higher wages in response, attracting applicants from a much wider pool of talent.

Yes, the pandemic was a catalyst for this move to hybrid working, but we must be careful not to blame the pandemic for ‘how things are now’.  It isn’t the only reason people are leaving jobs.  Great places to work who focus on their people are still great places that focus on their people.  Businesses with existing bad management practices will have had their weak points exposed.  The pandemic isn’t the cause, it has just raised a mirror to the organisations to help them see where the weaknesses are.

Some weaknesses were only seen because of the quick step into hybrid working.  When line managers were forced into being people managers during the pandemic they were inadequately prepared to act without the in-office back up of HR.  They were more likely to deal with things ad hoc, or without asking for help, and the results have, unsurprisingly, not always been positive!

What can we do?

It is a scary time for businesses, and the temptation can be to act in a way that conflicts with your future goals or current values; for instance, not managing people for underperformance for fear of them leaving, or not investing time or resources in training for retention and growth as all of HR’s focus is on recruitment.

We cannot keep plugging gaps in the hull, we have to keep an eye on where we are headed.  Businesses must split their focus between developing and nurturing existing talent to ensure they are choosing to stay, and attracting new talent.  Luckily, these things are interdependent.  The reasons why people stay with a business can be a powerful message to use when trying to attract potential candidates.

Seizing the Opportunity

Instead of blaming the pandemic, why not embrace the opportunity to bring to the fore the things that conscientious HR personnel have been talking about for years? Like flexible working, employee empowerment, people well-being, tailored support?

It may take years for the current reshuffling to finally settle down, but organisations that delay making changes to their hiring and people policies could be left in the dust.  The Great Reshuffle is affecting all industries, and staff at all levels of business, and it is clear that the incentives of days pre-pandemic (high salaries, company cars, opportunities to travel…) just won’t cut it anymore. 

Companies need to offer support for their people’s mental health first, and wealth second.  Alison Omens, chief strategy officer of JUST Capital, which carried out the recent Stanford Study said:  “We asked people would they take a pay cut to work for a company that aligns with their values,” she adds, “and across the board, people say yes.”

If you’d like to find out more about creating a culture that cares, get in touch with the Connect Three team.  Our HR experts are here to help you.

November 3, 2021

How to Reboard your People

Your people are not going back to the same workplace they left in March 2020 when the first UK lockdown started.  In the last 18 months the world has changed, and these differences will be around for the foreseeable future.  Now we need to help our people to transition from the ‘temporary’ ways of working we’ve had in place since then, to a new, safe, and inclusive workplace.  This is the principle behind reboarding.

Reboarding is the idea of welcoming your people back in a similar way as you would ‘onboard’ new employees; creating training and resources to help them make the move back to the office, or whatever new ways of working you have envisaged for your business’s future.

Creating this plan and process can be daunting, but think of it as the chance to design a new, improved employee experience that you can be proud of.

  1. Agree on the Vision & Make a Plan
    Before you start, you need to be clear on what your new workplace will look like.  As with all things, we would encourage you to consult with as many of your people as possible rather than rolling out your ideal solution and discovering that it will not work for your teams.  Surveys are telling us that single people want back to the office and couples want to work at home; that Millennials want back to their desks while Gen X want to work from home forever – without trying too hard I’m sure you can think of a dozen examples from your people, friends, and family where these generalisations do not apply, so please don’t assume that you know what people will want to do.  Just ask them instead.
  2. Support your Leaders so they can support your People
    Once you have your vision and plan in place, get your leaders ready.  You need to support them so that they are in a place to support their teams.  Many of us have relied on our managers to take on new responsibilities around the wellbeing of their teams when we were thrust into lockdown the first time.  Now as we seek to change their ways of working again, your people may feel anxious and out-of-place, and you need to equip your leaders to help support your teams through this.
  3. Prepare, Train, and take Feedback
    Ensure leaders know where they can access resources to help them to reboard their teams successfully; offer them updated training so they are confident about answering their people’s questions and addressing any concerns; and provide them a way to pass feedback upwards on what the teams are asking for, and let them know that this feedback is being acted on.
  4. Respect Individual Needs
    If there was one simple lesson that we could impart on the businesses working through their reboarding plans right now, it is ‘treat your people as individuals’.  No two people had the same experience of the pandemic, and it could be that no two people in your organisation require the same support as they return to the workplace.  Recognise their unique experiences, discover their needs, and your people will thrive.

For support developing your reboarding plan, get in touch with Connect Three today.

August 30, 2021

Key lessons in returning to the workplace – The Scotsman

Repost of Colin's article in The Scotsman

Over the past 16-months the pandemic has forced employers to adapt to extremes never considered before, and it has taken strong leadership to steer things in the right direction.

However, as restrictions ease and we all prepare to return to the workplace, we must adapt again to changes that will last beyond the pandemic – and it falls again on leaders to navigate their people on the road to recovery.

Over the past 16 months, organisations have changed immeasurably, and so have the demands placed those in the driving seat. What has become clear is that ina crisis, the leadership approach must change too.

Let’s break this down into three phases: emergency – the pandemic; return – getting people back into the swing of ‘normal’ working; and recovery – what happens next.

In the emergency phase, leaders had to move to the frontline and fight the fires. However, in the return phase, leaders must step back and spend more time supporting their teams.

In recovery, leaders need to strike a balance between guiding a smooth return while maintaining the pressure to renew and rethink the future.

So what does this mean for leaders in the ‘new normal’ and what should they be thinking about as we emerge from the pandemic?

1. Recalibrate what you do and why you do it.

This is a crucial step – often overlooked – but an easy win. Re-tell the story about your organisation and why it exists, what it does and what is important. Many people have now re-evaluated their personal priorities and whether they are still aligned with those of their organisation. Spending time here helps everyone to get ‘back on the bus’, know the destination, how they will get there, understand what seat they are in and how they can contribute to success. Don’t overlook the obvious just because you know the way ahead, and if you don’t know the way, keep listening, talking and asking for contribution.

 2. Rethink how work gets done.

Clearly, the pandemic changed the way we work forever. For some this may be minor, but for others this could mean a change of role entirely. This is an opportunity. Don’t slip back into your old organisational structure – you need to better understand how your business needs to operate and then think about what that means for the roles required and the people you have. Capitalise by resetting the organisation and reviewing if you have the right structure for now – not the past. Include your team in this. It helps people shape the right structure and roles, and they often have a better understanding of how things work day-to-day. This helps identify where gaps and development areas are in knowledge, skills and behaviours that are necessary going forward.

3. Elevate your authentic self (NB this is key).

It can’t all be about the business strategy and structure. Leaders must be explicitly authentic. What does this mean? Well, leaders need to role model vulnerability for a start. Why? Because everyone is probably feeling a little vulnerable and nervous about the future of work, and the truth is no one really knows what the coming months and years have in store. Leaders need to be honest, transparent and show vulnerability. They need to connect with their human-side and be able to express their feelings and display emotions for others to understand that ‘it is okay, not to be okay’.

We have had to immerse ourselves in being more resilient and focus on our wellbeing over the last 16 months – this cannot and should not stop. We need to ensure we are putting our own lifejackets on before helping others. Leaders need to look after themselves, to be able to look after others. To do this, we can ensure we are booking in regular maintenance and re-fuel time so we don’t burn out. There is a fine line, and leaders need to know themselves better to manage their impulse control and emotions to create a safe psychological environment for people to feel they can come forward with concerns or questions.

4. Navigate your people back to work

Going back into the workplace should not be overlooked. This is a BIG deal for most people – especially if the set-up has changed. We all know the importance of how people see their physical place of work and why some have battled with the introduction of hot-desking in recent years. You should create a staged campaign here to get people excited about going back into the workplace (once it is safe to do so). Pilot different ideas and bring people in to help test and ask for their feedback. Re-think why you are asking people to return to the office and consider how you can still offer flexibility for teams and individuals who have improved productivity from working from home.

For most, the move to digital and working from home (or anywhere) has really elevated industries – creating an opportunity to rescope how the office is used and how to work in a hybrid way.

We would also recommend ‘re-orientating’ workforces on their return. I don’t know how many people we have spoken to that have forgotten how the printer works or how to set the alarm. Going back over the basics and bringing teams in to go through a re-introduction to the workplace shouldn’t be missed. It will help create a buzz and start reforming relationships again. Top tip – take the small stuff seriously.

5. Promote ‘out with the old and in with the new’

Leaders need to encourage and role model change. Recovery isn’t about going back and slipping into old habits. This is an incredible opportunity to assess pre-pandemic routines and behaviours, then determine which ones serve the organisation, and which ones are best left in the past. “Renewal not return” is the term used by leaders such as Siemens Chairman Jim Hagemann. Leaders who have created a psychologically safe culture with their teams will be able to progress, promoting and rewarding others to help do things differently, faster and better. This is when you can get creative and innovative with teams – form huddles and create the environment for creative problem solving and looking at ways to improve processes and workflows. This is pivotal to your people feeling part of and contributing to the change your organisation needs to be a success. It is not about the leader having all the ideas or solutions – it is about creating the right culture and environment for your people to take ownership and accountability here and bring their own ideas of how they can improve productivity.

Colin Lamb is founder of Connect Three, a Scottish consultancy which helps businesses improve through their people

June 25, 2021

Maintaining Flexible Working after Lockdown

By the peak of summer in 2020, around 40% of the workforce had been moved to remote and flexible working arrangements because of the COVID pandemic[1].  The rapid shift to flexible working, and the longevity of our secondment to home offices has created an international debate about the future of the workplace, and has caused many organisations to begin to explore potential longer-term adoption of more flexible approaches to work.

Flexible working means a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work, but as the remote/hybrid/onsite debate rages on elsewhere, let’s focus on flexible working in terms of hours and times for now.  For many, juggling home schooling, care giving responsibilities and other lockdown legacies meant that 9am to 5pm was just not a possibility, and companies accommodated this change.  But can this be sustained once lockdown has ended?

Some People or All People?

Jane van Zyl, Working Families chief executive, says that by offering flexible working employers can “harness the increases in productivity, talent attraction, and diversity that flexible working will bring to the UK economy”[2].

“We simply can’t go back to a time where long hours and being the last person in the office are seen as a mark of success,” she added.

But if businesses choose to return to ‘business as usual’, with their people in the office most of the time, will they still consider more flexible accommodations for their staff, such as occasional remote working?  Or flexible work hours to allow couples to both work full-time and still share child care responsibilities?  Will it be available to all staff, or only those with a certain level or title?

As has become Connect Three’s mantra in our articles throughout the pandemic, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.  The demands of your industry and how you operate, the nature of your marketplace, and the needs of your people will all inform your decision.

Benefits and Barriers to Flexible Working

The positives of a completely flexible workforce are both anecdotal and scientific.  It may be linked to higher productivity and job satisfaction, and by helping workers avoid the pressure of commuting at rush hour, companies can improve their people’s mental well-being, while also reducing the strain on the environment.  If not all staff are in the office at the same time then this could allow organisations to downsize their physical sites, or even close some of them altogether leaving more funding available for other improvements to help their people.

There are plenty of negatives as well - for instance, if leaders and their people are not working compatible hours, the lack of visibility can impact workers professionally, and if people begin to be in the minority, and are working in office when relatively few people are around, mental health may become an issue.  The social isolation caused by the pandemic has been a deciding factor in the rise in mental health problems the NHS has documented over the last 12 months.

So before considering how to implement flexible working, you need to speak with your people and decide if it's the right choice.

How do you Implement Flexible Working?

UK employment law sets out a number of minimum standards regarding flexible working with which employers must comply, so employers should make sure they’re aware of these when reviewing their flexible working arrangements. The CIPD has a wide range of resources and information on flexible working including case studies and information on the types of flexible working.

In their literature the CIPD highlights that when teams have a mix of virtual and physical working, organisations and their people managers need to “ensure fairness and consistency in the treatment of all employees whether working flexibly or not”, as well as ongoing communication and engagement.

Their recommendations for effective people management during flexible working include:

  • Effective communication to make sure all employees receive key messages, whether they are in the office or not.
  • Providing managers with guidance, training and support for managing remotely and ‘out of hours’.
  • Encouraging regular 1-2-1 or ‘check-in’ meetings to monitor wellbeing and reduce any feelings of isolation.
  • Fair workload distribution and regular reviews of workload and objectives.
  • Regular team meetings and social spaces to maintain connections and build relationships.

As well as this general advice. there is lots, and I mean lots, of existing and emerging research[3] that can help companies who are serious about implementing flexible working to create a viable organisational strategy, and ways to effectively manage and lead flexible workers. As Dr. Daniel Wheatley of University of Birmingham says:

“Truly embracing flexibility requires job design to be revisited in many cases, so that the focus is on deliverables and outputs rather than specific timing of work…
[Flexible Working] can enable the working day to be moulded for the dual benefit of worker and employer. However, this has to be carefully managed to ensure that workers are available when needed, but also are able to realise a separation and balance between home and work."[4]

 Flexible Working Will NEVER Be Available for Everyone

Finally, it should be acknowledged that remote and flexible working has been a privilege made available to those mostly in managerial and professional occupations.  With the notable exception of professionals in the healthcare and other essential industries, the 60% of the workforce unable to work remotely or flexibly tends to be from lower wage brackets.

Those whose job requires them to be in their workplace during certain hours, such as roles in manufacturing, delivery, retail and  hospitality roles will never discover the simple pleasure of conducting business at hours which suit your lifestyle and natural productivity levels.  This is the same demographic that was largely left unable to work, furloughed, redundant, or being forced to journey to a workplace during the pandemic.

So no matter how ‘mainstream’ flexible and remote working becomes, it is doubtful that it will ever become the majority solution.



[1] https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/non-standard-employment/publications/WCMS_743447/lang--en/index.htm

[2] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/maintain-flexible-working-momentum-after-pandemic-urges-charity/

[3] https://www.igi-global.com/book/handbook-research-remote-work-worker/256890

[4] https://blog.bham.ac.uk/business-school/2021/03/03/managing-flexible-working-post-pandemic/

May 25, 2021

Should we all be Moving to a Four Day Work Week?

The four day work week – a cost cutting exercise, a step towards real inclusive workplaces, or just a gimmick to attract new talent? Not all companies are contemplating the shift to a shorter work week for the same reasons, but more and more are considering it.

The noble idea behind the reduced working week is that by having your people work one less day a week, they will have more time for their hobbies, their family, or for more rest.  In turn you will increase morale, company loyalty and employee engagement – but let’s be clear, not all four day work weeks are created equal.  Some companies are offering ‘condensed’ weeks, asking employees to split the same amount of hours across fewer days.  Others are offering reduced working hours, but are reducing pay packets to match.

The ideal situation, and the one that we support is a flexible solution, treating people like adults and allowing them to fit work around their lives.  Rather than the UK media’s usual perception of creating a ‘3 day weekend’ with all employees taking Fridays off, think of it more as a 32 hour week.  Employees would be able to have 2 half days; or to work ‘school friendly’ hours five days a week; or even miss rush hour by starting later or finishing earlier each day.  This flexible approach to working allows for more refreshed, happier people and, studies have shown, an increase in productivity.  But how close is this to a reality?

Well, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the Scottish Government will create a £10 million fund “to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four-day working week”.  Other countries, including Spain have recently announced plans to pilot the four-day work week, although their backing extends to a more generous €50 million fund.   According to the SNP, this initial pilot in Scotland will help them to “consider a more general shift” across the whole country and to “identify additional employment opportunities and assess the economic impact of moving to a four-day week”.[1]   How this will manifest outside of a manifesto is yet to be seen, but it’s a very encouraging step forward.

The SNP’s original announcement came just before the last election, when Advice Direct Scotland urged all parties to consider the four day work week pledge, citing studies that it reduced absenteeism by 75%[2].  This may be true, but what other pros and cons have been discovered during real life tests of a reduced working week?

New Zealand based Perpetual Guardian[3] found that introducing a 4 day work week “increased employee satisfaction, company commitment and teamwork, but it also decreases stress levels”. They also found that it did not harm their productivity or company output.[4]  Sanford University carried out an in-depth examination of the relationship between hours worked and productivity[5] and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that overworked employees are less productive than employees who have an average working week.

The most encouraging data comes from the Government Equalities Office, which carried out research on the Gender Pay Gap[6].  It demonstrated that roughly two million British people are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women.  Flexible working hours have been proven to help provide a more equal workplace as employees are able to spend more time with their families and find balance between work and care commitments.  We truly believe that the positive impact that a national move to flexible working could have on the gender gap in our economy would be staggering – but poor implementation of flexible working could be equally detrimental.

Despite the positive studies it is not a foregone conclusion that a four day work week will have positive results for an organisation.  The largest study conducted on the subject to date was between 2015 and 2017 in Sweden, testing the impact of shorter working weeks for nurses[7].  The results of the study did demonstrate a reduction in sick leave, an improvement in mental wellbeing and engagement, and a massive upsurge in the quality of care for the patients the nurses involved looked after.  However, the study was ultimately cut short as it was deemed to not be cost-effective.  Sometimes the positives just do not outweigh the negatives, especially when it comes to public sector funded organisations.

So what can you do?  If we are to take for granted that within the next four years the Scottish Government will start supporting businesses who want to trial a four day work week, then those who are interested should start getting their houses in order now.  Considering the big picture questions of why, who and how is a good place to start, and if you need some professional advice or just an impartial expert to facilitate some in house discussions, get in touch.  We offer flexible working to all of our employees, from day one, and we are always happy to tell you all about what went wrong on our journey to getting it right!

Get in touch with Connect Three today for help implementing flexible working arrangements for your people.


[1] https://www.thenational.scot/news/19236021.nicola-sturgeon-says-snp-will-fund-four-day-working-week-pilot-scotland/

[2] https://www.advice.scot/

[3] https://www.perpetualguardian.co.nz/

[4] https://www.fastcompany.com/90205776/the-four-day-work-week-works

[5] https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/crunchmode/econ-hours-productivity.html

[6] https://www.sage.com/en-gb/blog/gender-pay-gap-reporting/

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38843341

January 6, 2021

Top 5 Workplace Trends for 2021

Let us not say much more about 2020. It was not a great year for most; however, it did offer a plethora of learning opportunities for us on both a personal and business level.  COVID-19 has certainly been a catalyst for change, and we should not expect this to slow down even when we return (sooner rather than later we all hope) to a feeling of suspended ‘stability’.

For the most part, we are all craving positive news and being able to return to meet in person again but not as we knew it before. Here are 5 Workplace trends that I anticipate seeing in 2021: 

  1. The Hybrid Workplace
    A term used more frequently over the last 3 months. Do not expect employees to return to the office 5 days a week and back to some sort of 9-5pm working hours.  We anticipate that this could be a 50/50 split with employees commuting for only essential meetings where it requires more collaboration, strategic or creative input. We have already seen workplace spaces been redefined and streamlined and we expect to see less office desk space and more collaborative working spaces. It goes without saying that there will be an uplift in flexible working and remote working, given that we have been forced into it for most of 2020.

  2. Role of HR
    I have read many articles about HR now having a seat in the board room and the CHRO title being popularised more. However
    , in reality, HR (or ‘People’ as it more often referred to now) is still not considered a strategic contributor to many executive teams in both large and smaller businesses. With HR being more integral in 2020, through workforce planning, there will be a huge need for talent and skills mapping, upskilling, increasing focus on mental health and well-being as well as a increasing diversity and creating an inclusive workforce. If there is a year to invest in your people, then 2021 should be it.

  3. Diverse & larger talent pools
    The door has opened to casting a larger net for talent with the adoption of flexible and remote working. We expect to see much more of this in 2021, even with Brexit. In addition, businesses need to innovate and increasing the diversity of their talent (age, background, education, experience etc) is going to be essential to help drive this for many, especially those businesses who have a long-serving workforce.  We expect to see new jobs created and companies hiring out with their previous boundaries and broadening their views on who could be considered for the job.

  4. Antifragility (beyond resilience)
    We really like this term, not just because we are trailblazers, but resilience refers to coping with, whereas antifragility is about getting better. We expect to see a shift in focus around ‘resilience’ where it is no longer about creating coping mechanisms, but it is about making marked change for the better especially if we are not returning to our previous known way of working and living. We will see a change in many company cultures through revised value systems and desired behaviours resulting in more expectations around bravery and boldness.

  5.  ‘Skills First’
    With more of a focus on innovation in 2021 
    and a real acceleration through digital transformation, employees need to be upskilled to do jobs differently, more efficiently and add more value than before. The tide will turn, and it will no longer be acceptable to coast along in roles, the bar has been lifted and this will require a monumental focus on skills and training forin some cases, entire teams within the workforce. The skills agenda will be on the table at all Executive meetings as without this relentless focus you cannot innovate further and compete in a new and changing marketplace.   All said, this relies on businesses having a clear vision of what their future looks like and this being understood in relation to current and future capability. 

If you found these trends helpful, please share with others.  

At Connect Three we help businesses and people change. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss these trends further or if you are looking to see how we could help support you with any of these trends in 2021. 

Thanks for reading, 


October 7, 2020

Working from Home – Not One Size Fits All

The UK government is fluctuating between telling people to work from home, and encouraging companies to send their staff back to the office but do they really want to return?  Netflix Chairman, Reed Hastings, is quoted as calling working from home “a pure negative”[1]; do other big brands share his beliefs?  What about the small businesses out there; has the pandemic been a blessing or a curse?

To prepare for this article I have spent hours poring over the research to get some answers on how successful working from home has been for people and businesses in the UK so far.  If I’m honest, the articles on the benefits of working from home are starting to get my hackles up, and it’s for one simple reason – the generalisations.  It is wild to assume that if a cross-section of the population is interviewed they will give the same answers on:

  1. Have you enjoyed working from home?
  2. Would you like to continue working from home?
  3. How productive have you been?

Let’s take our own company as an example.  We are a team of 13, made up of remote workers and core office staff; some of us are working parents, some of us live with our parents, and some of us live alone.  We have blended families, single parents, and nuclear families in our group.  Our ages range from early twenties to…well, let’s say 40+.  Our job roles are split amongst creative, operational, strategic and coaches/trainers so our day-to-day working lives looked very different even before lockdown.

Just as no two employees have the same experience, no two companies will have approached the ‘working from home’ process in the same way.  Many companies had been taking a proactive approach to flexible working long before the pandemic hit, while others were forced into it with no preparation for their teams on emotional or practical levels.  At Connect Three we were lucky that none of us were new to working from home.  Like many other fair work focused companies, we have had a long term strategy implementing flexible working.  That means most of our team entered into this with previous experience of working at home, and established spaces at to work from.  However, there are many teams and businesses who may have dipped their toe in the flexible-working-water before, or may have never considered it.

All  things considered, how could people possibly write overarching statements on whether working from home has been a positive or negative experience for any team or agency?  Before we run after naysayers like Reed Hastings with pitchforks, let’s look at what he said.  Firstly, he was clear that his staff would not be returning to regular office hours until after a COVID-19 vaccination was available.  Second, he said that: "Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”  While it’s a strong statement, it’s not necessarily wrong, is it?  Being unable to get together in person could not be classed as a positive thing.  The impact on company growth and individual well-being is obvious.  Other big brand bosses, however, are more than happy to embrace the changing models of working and the benefits they bring.

With mounting financial pressures, the idea that companies do not need a city centre skyscraper office to attract the best staff is incredibly appealing.  The pandemic has proven for many companies that a dispersed workforce is an effective method for finding and retaining diverse talent.  Imagine a future where companies can still pay you ‘big city’ wages but move their headquarters to cities where their rent, and yours, will be much lower.

Other brands have plans for hybrid models of working.  Facebook, for instance, has announced its intention to open small satellite offices where staff can ‘check in’ and meet face-to-face regularly while still working from home when they like.  Coinbase CEO Brain Armstrong says; “… the vision is to have one floor of office space in 10 cities, rather than 10 floors of office space in one city.”[2]

There is no doubt that the cat is out of the bag when it comes to remote working, and that the likelihood of everyone who worked 5 days a week in an office returning to that style of work any time soon is not high; but questions are rightly being raised about whether company culture and innovation is being impacted; about how ‘presenteeism’ will affect career progression for parents and junior staff; about how staff mental health is impacted by isolation from colleagues and face-to-face networking.  As Mark Lund, President of McCann Worldgroup says: “We are missing the charge of physical meetings and collaboration with each other and clients greatly. The serendipity at the heart of the creative process is much harder to achieve via a screen.”[3]

So where do we go from here?  How do we create a model that works for all of our people, enabling them to be productive, while protecting their emotional well-being and securing our company’s future?  Oh wait, were you are expecting an answer?  Like I said, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for the ‘working from home’ question.  I do know how you can find your company’s answer though – communication.  Speak to your staff as individuals, make your decisions about the future based on evidence, not assumptions.  Just because surveys and research say that most older people want to keep working from home, while most younger people want back to the comradery of an office; that does not mean it’s true for your staff.  Check in with them and find out what they need.  One thing is for sure, the working from home model must evolve from where it is now.

Those businesses who have yet to plan how a more flexible working arrangement could benefit their organisations for the better need to start now, and those businesses with established flexible working solutions need to review what has worked and what hasn’t during the recent system stress test.

“Even the most ambitious champions of remote working acknowledge that in-person interaction with colleagues is healthy for morale and company culture, and that it enables a greater degree of collaborative innovation not possible with Zoom or Teams, which tech leaders agree is an essential catalyst to growth.” Says Ernest Andrade, Founder of the Charleston Digital Corridor[4].

Nikki Slowey, Founder and Co-Director of Flexibility Works, says: “The demand for flexible working was already outstripping supply here in Scotland and in particular the demand for home working had certainly not been met by employers. Business leaders are now looking at how people in their organisation will work going forward and realising that home working needs to be part of the picture. This doesn’t mean everyone working from home all of the time. There is still a huge role for a physical space, which allows us to connect with colleagues, but we will see a more blended approach to where and when people work.

“And remember, what we’ve been experiencing is not even ‘normal’ home working, as it happened so suddenly for so many people, not to mention the fact many of us have children at home. Just think what can be achieved if we embed flexible working properly as businesses re-set post COVID19. There are, of course, many challenges for organisations and workers because of the pandemic.  But there is an opportunity to make some things better.”

Get in touch to find out how Connect Three can support businesses like yours in engaging with your teams, or the behavioural support required during the challenges working from home gives employees and how we can support managers and leaders.

[1] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/netflixs-reed-hastings-right-call-working-home-a-pure-negative/1694607

[2] https://blog.coinbase.com/post-covid-19-coinbase-will-be-a-remote-first-company-cdac6e621df7

[3] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/netflixs-reed-hastings-right-call-working-home-a-pure-negative/1694607

[4] https://venturebeat.com/2020/09/13/after-covid-a-hub-and-spoke-office-style-could-become-the-norm/

July 2, 2020

Working Lives in Scotland

CIPD Scotland has created an insightful report on job quality in Scotland as part of their commitment to championing better work and working lives for all Scottish people.  What’s really interesting about this report is that it offers pre-COVID-19 analysis and insights on workforce health and wellbeing as well as skills and careers development.

This report adapts the CIPD Good Work Index to the Scottish Fair Work Framework.  If you have worked with Connect Three before you’ll know that we are passionate about helping businesses meet the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Framework.  We are proud to have been awarded the Glasgow Business Award for Fair Work last year, and in the last 12 months we have worked to help others create the same engaged, innovative workplace that we have been recognised for building with our own team.

So what are the key findings from the report?

One finding that we feel has extra relevance in our society right now is the positive correlation between flexible work and job satisfaction.  Now that more businesses have been pushed into creating flexible working environments for their staff, how will they move forward when we all return to office environments?

Connect Three’s Founder, Colin Lamb, says: “We have long been champions of flexible working and are happy to see this report’s finding that there is a positive correlation between being flexible and having a happier workforce. Flexible working practices allow everyone in your organisation the chance to shine, regardless of what’s going on outside of work.”

A finding that we were disappointed to read was that both personal and career development opportunities differ, often significantly, by gender, age, sector and occupational class.  The statistic in this which stood out to us was that there is a significant gap in the perceived skills development opportunities for the 45-54 age bracket.  It has started some interesting conversations amongst our team as to the skills development opportunities appropriate and available for this age group.

“One of the five pillars of the Fair Work Framework is opportunity.” says Gordon White, Connect Three’s Operations Manager. “Seeing this perceived gap in skills development opportunities for the 45-54 age bracket drives home how important Opportunity is when creating a happier and more productive workplace.”

Other key findings:

You can view all of the results from the report and download the unabridged version here.

For more information on Fair Work and creating Opportunity within your organisation, get in touch with Connect Three today on hello@connectthree.co.uk.

July 1, 2020

Build Back Better with Workplace Innovation

As COVID-19 lockdown measures slowly begin to ease, is your business ready to restart, grow and strive to be better than ever?

The Build Back Better Workplace Innovation Progamme is designed to help businesses identify steps they can take now to not only transition from survival to growth, but to emerge stronger following the crisis. This includes taking a fresh look at business strategy through new ideas and thinking, leading teams through change in an unprecedented time, whilst placing a strong emphasis on the importance of employee engagement and connection.

This is a free programme of 3 half-day workshops delivered by Connect Three in partnership with Scottish Enterprise.

Workshop 1 - Refocusing your business

  • Changing business landscape - take a fresh look at the business strategy
  • Move from Chaos to Opportunity - reposition the business to emerge stronger from the crisis
  • Turning new ideas and thinking into action

Workshop 2 - Leading through Change

  • Supporting leaders to reflect on their own role in leading the business out of lockdown
  • Examine what leadership behaviours & style are required to support people coming back to work
  • Delve deeper into the priority’s leaders need to set for the business, following Workshop 1

Workshop 3 – Engagement & Connection

  • Identifying ways to engage in a virtual world and build a culture of trust and psychological safety
  • Create purpose and align this with contribution in the new workplace
  • Being courageous to make right and fair decisions for the business and its people in the long term

The first Build Back Better Workplace Innovation series is now fully booked. The second series starts on 15th July. Register your free place today!


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