At the time of launching the Coalition in August 2020, Aon’s Fourth Global COVID-19 Pulse Survey showed that 6 out of 10 organisations thought that less than half their workforce would return to the office in the next 3-6 months and just 30% thought the majority of the workforce would return to physical locations within 12 months. As cases of COVID-19 across Ireland started to rise again additional restrictions were re-introduced which forced organisations to delay plans for the return to office with the timeline becoming increasingly less clear.

While the Coalition work started out as a discussion about the return of workforces to offices safely, in response to the evolving situation with the pandemic, it evolved and quickly became a discussion around designing and managing an agile and resilient workforce – regardless of where they are located.

Resulting from this collaboration, this report has been compiled by Aon to bring together the insights and learnings which have come from the experience of the past year.

At the time of launching the Coalition, Leo Varadkar, TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Jobs welcomed its formation and acknowledged that companies working together and sharing information was a necessary strategy for the unchartered territory that organisations were facing. At the time of launch the Tánaiste said:

“COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way we work and will continue to present really difficult challenges for businesses as they navigate the next few months. It’s great to see companies working together on how they are managing these challenges and sharing information on what has worked best”.

To help frame discussions Aon carried out bespoke Return to Work Assessment Surveys with Coalition members. This quantitative assessment focused on numerous operational areas that needed to be considered before bringing employees back to the physical workspaces in a safe way. The assessment included themes ranging from crisis and recovery management and communications; environmental, health and safety issues to human resources considerations, to security and risk management.

In parallel, Coalition members took part in three virtual roundtable discussions under the umbrella theme of Work, Travel and Convene.

Three core themes emerged through these sessions:


Navigating volatility on the road to recovery

There is a need to place added emphasis on identifying new areas of risk within businesses and put in place strategies which mitigate future challenges. Companies will need to continue embracing digital transformation at speed, so they have the ability to maintain a remote workforce into the future. In support of this, enhanced cyber security training and modern privacy guidelines will need to be put in place.


Building a Resilient Workforce

This emerged as a core business priority and will become ever more prevalent as organisations restructure how and where their employees work. Initially this will require additional training for team leaders on effectively managing employees remotely, monitoring productivity, maintaining employee engagement and managing performance. Evolving health and wellbeing strategies are also key to support colleagues not just through this challenging phase but into a post pandemic future. Communication is also vital and senior leaders will be required to communicate the values that shape a company’s culture while line managers will play an ever more important role in understanding and addressing the individual needs of employees.


Preparing for the Future of Work Now

The Future of Work is quickly becoming a reality. This has been confirmed recently with the publication of the National Remote Working Strategy which could see remote working becoming a preference for many in the years to come.

From individualised approaches to management and nurturing evolved models of leadership through to the integration of remote hiring and onboarding within a company’s HR practices, organisations are already involved in a process of transformation.

This changed environment will have significant implications on the future role of the physical office which will no longer be a single place of work, but rather a space to facilitate collaboration and spark innovation.

The findings and insights gathered through the work of the Coalition can help to inform decision making by organisations of all sizes, across all industries - using them to inform how they map out their risk management strategies, the future of work for their workforce whether they are navigating the return to office space, a hybrid approach or the continuation of a remote working model.