In yet another indication of the fundamental way in which the pandemic is changing working norms, the head of global consumer goods giant Unilever has predicted that the company’s office staff will never return to their desks five days a week.
Speaking this week at a conference organised by news agency Reuters, Unilever’s worldwide CEO, Alan Jope, said the traditional approach of daily office-based work seemed “old fashioned” now.
He added that the pandemic had also emphasised that the company did not need to be as hierarchical.
Four-day work week being trialled in NZ
Among the changes to working practices being trialled is a New Zealand-based project where Unilever employees are only working a four-day week after other businesses found that shorter hours are beneficial to productivity and to employee wellbeing.
The trial, which involves 81 employees, will continue until the end of 2021. Thereafter, Unilever will assess the results and consider rolling it out to other countries.
However, not all is rosy in the work-from-home garden. Jope said Unilever was still keen to have staff return to offices, at least on a part-time basis, after seeing a “slow erosion of social capital” as working from home prevents colleagues from meeting in person.
More innovation when workers congregate
Many business leaders have voiced concerns about lack of innovation and the impact on training younger staff when workers do not congregate, he observed.
According to Jope, office workers in Unilever’s key Western European and North American markets are not likely to return to work until at least April. Thereafter, the company will use a “hybrid mode” of working between homes and offices.
“We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office,” he said.
Unilever will encourage workers to vaccinate
In all, Unilever employs around 150,000 people worldwide and since the onset of the pandemic has required office staff and those who can work from home to do so.
Jope said Unilever’s workforce would be encouraged to vaccinate, but they would not be forced to do so. However, those who refused would be subject to mandatory testing.
Unilever’s brands include Rexona, SunSilk, St Ives, V05, Simple, Radox, Domestos, Omo and Surf