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Thought Leadership 09 November 2020

The re-evaluation of front-line staff

How the Coronavirus pandemic shifted our perception on who – and what – we value…

Coronavirus has forced us to re-evaluate a lot this year. Our perception of a number of things has shifted irrevocably, and they’ve not all been wholly negative. We’ve found a new (or perhaps renewed) appreciation of close friends and family, of the value in simple pleasures such as a daily walk in the fresh air or a socially-distanced meal at a restaurant, and a quiet admiration in technology and the way it’s enabled us to stay connected across offices, countries and continents.

On the other side of the coin, some things have seen their metaphorical shares plummet. We moved away from a desire for polished and professional perfection when many of us started working from home, and now, instead of charisma and charm from our leaders, we want candour, humility, empathy and more human characteristics to weigh higher in the balance. Traditional 9-5pm working patterns, enforced in-house working, and rush hour commutes are also things that we’ve had time and space to reflect on – and perhaps now don’t value in the way we once did. According to a US-based survey on Cars.com referenced by Forbes, commuting has changed forever, and 35% of those who typically commuted plan to commute less after returning to work in person.

As we continue to pick our way through the ever-evolving pandemic, it’s worth considering how our perception of certain roles within the workplace have also shifted since March this year. Clap for Carers, the UK-wide applause which saw people clapping, cheering, and clanging pots and pans on their doorstep on a Thursday evening, ran for an unprecedented ten weeks during the nationwide lockdown in the UK, and was one of the most visible ways which highlighted the reinvigorated gratitude that the British public felt towards doctors, nurses, and carers.

In France health workers were awarded a pay rise for their efforts during the pandemic in a deal worth £8 billion, with the French Prime Minster saying “This is first of all recognition of those who have been on the front line in the fight against this epidemic.” In the United States, and in other locations across the globe, brands have lined up to offer discounts and offers for frontline staff, with free coffee in Starbucks, discounts on sports and lifestyle brands such as Nike, Boden and Under Armour, and free takeaway food when you flash your healthcare worker ID at Nandos.

The pandemic also forced us into realising what matters at a fundamental level. Remember the flurry of panic earlier this year over not being able to purchase toilet roll, or milk, or get a delivery slot for your groceries for weeks on end? According to this article on The Grocer, those challenges led to a huge shift in the perception of another undervalued group of workers: supermarket staff. “The whole of society has recognised who the key workers are,” says Roger Jenkins, national officer at GMB. “When the world comes to a stop, we need people supplying food.”

As pointed out in the article, the cultural shift in who we choose to value was also pointedly illustrated by the fashion magazine Vogue earlier this year, when it eschewed its traditional A-list celebrity cover stars to feature three front line workers on its July issue cover – including a 21-year-old assistant at the King’s Cross branch of Waitrose. As we gobbled up stories of furloughed pilots becoming delivery drivers and a viral LinkedIn post from a woman who’d lost her job and proudly took on a cashier role in a supermarket we asked: what could possibly be more important?

That’s why we’re so proud of our new digital product, Insights Explore, which makes learning and development opportunities available to everyone and anyone. Working as a lighter touch version of our flagship product, Insights Discovery, this new digital tool has been designed specifically with frontline workers in mind. With 80% of today’s workforce composed of deskless workers, we hope that Insights Explore – which can be accessed via mobile, tablet or laptop – makes learning more accessible and inclusive for the frontline staff we all want to support right now. As some of us head back into second national lockdowns, we’ll need to lean on them again.

In many ways, it’s the ordinary things that we’ve had to re-evaluate the most this year. You could say we’ve taken the day-to-day rituals of being able to go to work, travel, eat at a restaurant, or see family or friends at leisure for granted. You could also say that we’ve taken our frontline workers for granted before now. In these times, they’re the ones that have shown up tirelessly day after day, as delivery drivers, as hospital staff, or in supermarkets, to help keep our countries going. In this way, 2020 is the year in which the ordinary has truly become extraordinary. Perhaps, once we’re out of the woods of the pandemic and back to normal life, that should be the way it stays.

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