Covid-19


The next normal: hybrid working

Inclusive leadership, inclusive workplaces

Let’s be honest, the covid-19 pandemic has been nothing short of brutal hasn’t it; a virus not just pervasive to health, but to our whole way of living. Our work, home and social life have all been turned upside down by this seismic, global event. 

Life can now be defined as:

  1. ‘The old normal’ – life before covid-19; the way we lived and worked, the 9-5, office-based, mask-free(!), close contact interactions.
  2. The new normal– life during the global pandemic; waves of infection, lockdowns, remote and flexible working, mutations and more restrictions. 

Recently it feels like we’re entering a new period of change though. It’s what I and others are calling:

  1. ‘The next normal’ – life from summer 2021 onwards; the future! Things are feeling more hopeful with:

✅ The vaccination effort making huge strides. 

✅ Variant boosters being developed.

✅ Workplaces and society opening up again. 

I no longer feel like people or businesses are in survival mode. Yes, we still have challenges ahead of us(!), but I feel like we can finally take a moment, breathe and start planning for the future again. I love planning. Maybe it’s my love of stationary(!), but mainly it’s the relief I feel from turning chaos into calm.

Planning is so important in business. It’s the foundation for creating positive change and making great work – and we need this now more than ever. Going forwards leaders must plan and create workplaces which work for everyone. We all have differing needs and when organisations flex, (something the pandemic has shown us is possible) it means people can thrive, which benefits both the individual, teams and companies.

If we want to boost the economy, if we want increased productivity and profits, improved employee wellbeing etc, then workplace diversity and inclusion must be at the centre of our vision, goals and the steps we take to achieve these. (See the D&I business case for more detail.) 

Inclusivity, which starts at the top a.k.a. inclusive leadership is our roadmap to the future. 

Let’s not forget, employees are an organisation’s greatest resource! When staff feel valued, listened to and supported, they’re more effective at work. Leaders must value their employees, ask them what they need and want from their workplaces going forwards and then get to work delivering on this. It’s such an exciting time! Yes, we’ve experienced a phenomenal amount of change, which has been absolutely gruelling at times, but we’ve also learnt so many lessons and there are some transformative positives we can take from the experience. 

So where do we begin…

The first step in any great plan and journey is to know your start point! The Forever Flex: Making flexible working work beyond a crisis report gives us some interesting insights on where we are at the moment. In a survey of 1,420 employers, from all sectors, across the UK, during lockdown in 2020, Flex Appeal & partners found:

  • 58% of employers were working from home more than before covid.
  • 36% of employers had seen an increase in flexitime.
  • 27% of employers reported more part time work than before covid.
  • 13% of employers had increased job shares as a result of covid.

Powerful stats right? With this information we can see that:

Covid-19 has changed the status quo and culture of work in a global way. It has led to the potential for increased diversity, as higher numbers of women, people with disabilities (aka different abilities), carers, parents etc now have access to jobs they didn’t before, with more remote and flexible working. 

As James Taylor at Scope summarises, “employers have embraced, out of necessity, the flexible working measures that disabled employees have been requesting for years.” – Financial Times.

Leaders must do all they can to ensure these flexible working practices continue in ‘the next normal’ and post-covid era. The door must remain open for under-represented groups to access work and career opportunities. They have vital skills, experiences and unique insights necessary for business growth, not to mention how important it is from an equality and social justice perspective… 

We already have gender, disability and racial/ethnicity pay gaps. Whilst the pandemic has increased flexible working, unfortunately ‘racial/ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and women have been disproportionately affected by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.’ – Gartner. Inclusion of these groups must therefore be prioritised when re-envisioning how workplaces operate going forwards.

Another key learning point is that the pandemic has disproven the false narrative that flexible working results in less staff productivity. This is a major finding; a silver lining to the torrential thunderstorm that has been covid-19.

Much research has been conducted on remote working and productivity in the last year. For example CIPD found: ‘71% of survey participants said that homeworking had no detrimental impact on productivity. This figure is made up of 33% who said that productivity improved, and 38% who said it was unchanged.’ – Flexible Working: Lessons From The Pandemic (Sample size: 2,133 senior decision-makers in UK organisations.)

There are so many positives to remote working and perhaps the most valuable one that employees have found is the gift of time. Some people have gained 2+ extra hours a day, by reclaiming time from their daily commute. Instead of sitting in gridlocked traffic or standing on busy, commuter trains, people have utilised this time and engaged in more sleep, exercise, hobbies and had quality time with their families. These things are incredibly beneficial for mental and physical health, and have positive effects with regards to work; people are more productive because they’re better rested, healthier and happier.

This is echoed in the CIPD report: ‘The most frequently mentioned benefit was increased wellbeing through avoiding the commute (46% of survey participants), followed by enhanced wellbeing because of greater flexibility of hours (39%).’

FlexAppeal have been campaigning for all employers to offer flexible working since 2015, including ‘compressed hours, homeworking, flexitime, smarter shift patterns or any other variation.’ This is because, ‘hundreds of studies have shown flex improves access to work, reduces stress and improves our physical and mental health. . . it’s good for employers, because it raises productivity, improves loyalty and can cut costs. It has been shown to work in factories, hospitals, shops and offices.’

Of course remote working has come with some drawbacks this last year, such as ‘screen fatigue’, less-than-ideal home office set-ups and reduced connections. However the trick is in learning how to off-set these downsides and what’s really exciting is ‘the next normal’ might just give us the perfect balance we’ve all been looking for…

What will ‘the next normal’ look like?

Picture shows a desk with a plant on and two laptops. One of the screens says 'Work Hard Anywhere'.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Conversations are taking place on this topic globally and I for one am very excited about the possibilities! The general consensus is that people want a hybrid of the old and the new: flexible hours, the option to work from home a couple days a week, as well as return to the office. How this will work logistically, globally etc is still to be determined and different companies will have varying approaches and methodologies to one another. 

For example, Unilever has been discussing flexible working and the impact of this from very early on in the pandemic. “We saw no decrease in collaboration and productivity from March to June – in fact, this rose significantly with 20% more time spent working together internally and 19% more time in virtual external meetings. . . Our UniVoice survey in October showed a 9% increase (to 82%) in people who feel Unilever cares about their wellbeing.” – Unilever. 

Fast forward to January 2021 and at a conference, Jope spoke of Unilever’s plans for the future: “Gradually we’ll shift to a hybrid mode of some time in the office, some time at home. And we anticipate never going back to 5 days a week in the office! That seems very old-fashioned now.” – Reuters.

Here at Enact Solutions, we’ve always prioritised offering full and part-time contracts, flexible hours and job shares. However during the pandemic we’ve learnt we don’t need to be physically visible at all times, but can in fact work remotely and to greater effect at certain times. It’s valuable learning we’re committed to taking forwards with us.

What’s inspiring is current research indicates extremely high numbers of employers feel the same. For example the Forever Flex report (November 2020) found:

  • 72% of all employers want to keep working from home.
  • 70% of all employers want to keep working flexitime.
  • 66% of all employers want to keep job shares.
  • 64% of all employers want to keep part time hours.
  • 58% of all employers want to keep compressed hours.

The CIPD report also corroborates these findings: ‘After lockdown, 63% of employers planned to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working’.

Worthy of note though is that, ‘only 28% have plans to train managers in how to manage remotely.’  This is very concerning! Organisations must invest in training if they want to see the benefits flexible working can bring. This is CIPD’s number 1 recommendation:

‘In order to achieve productive homeworking, employers need to provide training and support in hybrid working.’ This is because, ‘of those employers who offered such training, 43% said productivity had increased during homeworking, compared to only 29% that hadn’t offered training.’ 

Training is key in generating greater productivity. 

Here at Enact Solutions we run inclusive leadership training and pride ourselves on our business relevant content. We create experiential training programmes which focus on the types of challenges companies face today. We’re currently working with clients on how to effectively manage and support employees who are transitioning to hybrid working, helping these leaders bring the best out of their teams and individuals. It’s important work and we’re delighted to be coaching leaders in it.

Something we love teaching is the importance of involving employees at every level of consultation and creating a shared vision together. Employees from entry level, to middle manager, to senior leaders must be a part of the process working towards behaviour change for it to effectively work. Good communication and decision-making which is inclusive, is the key to redesigning workplaces which work for the differing needs we all have.

If businesses are to survive and thrive, we need inclusive leaders who understand how much of a priority this is and weave it into every area of the workplace, from recruitment, policies, processes, promotions and so forth. 

Employers must listen to the needs and preferences of their staff and together they will be able to:

💡 Find flexible working solutions which work for both businesses and employees alike.

💡 Harness the power of collective diversity.

💡 Unlock the amazing potential and contributions we all have to offer.

It’s a historic and exciting time for inclusion. Join us. 

Jemma Houghton


Jemma Houghton is one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. She’s passionate about people being included and feeling valued at work. It makes for happier, healthier employees and increased productivity. 


Virtual Shindig and the power of laughter: the answer to your works xmas do!

Ladies and gentlemen, hands up who needs a night of fun? It has been soooooo long since we’ve all been out, right? I long for the days when we could go to a comedy club, watch stand-up and just laugh the night away. Who else remembers that?!

I miss treating myself to a lunch out with a colleague, having a chat, a chuckle and leaving work at the office for a bit. Wouldn’t post-work dinner and drinks be glorious right about now (!) as the start of the holiday season begins . . . 

Colourfully-lit Christmas trees are appearing in people’s windows and sparkly outdoor lights brighten the dark December skies. It fills me hope, but I also really miss people and miss doing fun things. [Quietly weeps!] Who’s with me in that?

I’m realising we need to do everything we possibly can to lift our spirits. We need to get creative, find work-arounds and plan some fun activities! 

That’s why I’m so excited to talk to you about Virtual Shindig: Enact Solutions’ absolutely brilliant, creative answer, to this year’s works xmas do! 

Virtual Shindig is a virtual night out, from the comfort and safety of your own home! It’s a chance for organisations to celebrate their employees’ phenomenal work and thank them for their incredible efforts this year. It’s 90 minutes of good old-fashioned fun – we’re talking a festive extravaganza filled with comedy, interactive games, awards and a few surprise celebrity appearances! 

Are you hooked yet? 

Virtual Shindig is all about the feel-good factor you get from watching a xmas show or film. The power of group laughter to create joy, facilitate wellbeing and connection. All our work at Enact Solutions is rooted in science and Virtual Shindig is no different. Laughter is increasingly being studied by the scientific community as the fascinating health and psychological benefits laughter brings emerges . . .

Laughter is wonderful for stress relief‘, because it reduces cortisol (stress hormone), anxiety, depression and releases endorphins in the brain. It also ‘makes you more open to new people and helps you build and strengthen relationships.’ – Psychology Today.

This means that work activities which facilitate laughter, not only contribute positively to mental health, but are perfect team-building and bonding exercises for colleagues. ‘Laughing together is something that improves team collaboration and stimulates innovation. It makes us feel more bonded as a team and as a consequence our creative guards come down, leading to more expansive idea generation.’ – BBC News

Stanford University Lecturer, Naomi Bagdonas who has been studying comedy for 5 years has this to say: “Some people believe this is too serious a time to laugh, but this is when we need humour more than ever. With this global pandemic, the shift to remote working, loneliness and depression rising precipitously, many of us have never felt so disconnected. When we laugh with someone – whether through a screen or 2m apart – we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthens our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative and resourceful.” – The Guardian. 

We have endured so much this year, both professionally and personally and we need a way to release this tension. Virtual Shindig has been designed to be an evening of light-hearted banter. It’s a tonic of an event, which connects team-members through laughter and builds resilience. We’re delighted to see so many companies booking Virtual Shindig under their staff wellbeing budgets.

We’ve organised everything, so you don’t need to worry about a thing. The normal stresses of which venue to pick and what menu to choose are now obsolete! Your company will come together in the best way we know how (yes that’s Zoom in 2020!) and have some feel-good, festive fun.

We’ve got laugh-out-loud topical sketches, performed by outstanding actors. There’ll be competitions, quizzes and prizes. And we’ll personalise everything, tailoring your works xmas do specifically to your workplace. It’s about bringing your employees together in a team celebration, with interactive shoutouts and in-jokes galore. Work friends will kick back, relax, have a giggle and a good time together.

So who are the hosts? Only the brilliant, comedic, double act: Tam Ryan and Marvyn Dickinson – you might recognise them off the telly! Both have appeared in Coronation Street and between them have starred in Emmerdale, Cold Feet, Waterloo Road etc.

Tam and Marv have a strong background in comedy and will be mixing the world of work with panto, bringing you a brilliantly bonkers evening, chock-full of comedy craic! They’ve got tons of experience, having appeared in many a theatre production and stand-up. Tam most recently played Buddy in the hit comedy, ‘Elf The Musical’, starring alongside Kym Marsh and Martine McCutcheon! 

Can you feel your xmas spirit growing?!

For one week only Tam will be revising his role in ‘Elf The Musical’ in Blackpool, so we have the amazing Lee Toomes joining Marv for our comedy double act. Lee recently toured in ‘The Full Monty’, is often seen on TV, including Peaky Blinders and Shameless and is a panto regular!

Have we mentioned that we’re raising money for charity too?! For every booking, we’ll be donating £50 to the wonderful charity ‘500 Acts of Kindness‘, founded by national treasure Julie Hesmondhalgh, aka Corrie’s beloved Hayley Cropper!

500 Acts of Kindness is: ‘A fundraising group where 500 people donate a pound a week to give £500 to a person, family or organisation in need.’ It was set up in 2017 by Julie and her friend Chris Malvern and since then has raised close to £100,000 in donations. As this inews article explains, donations have helped: ‘women fleeing domestic violence, bereaved parents and families overwhelmed by rent arrears.’ We’re super proud to be supporting it, especially at a time when so many people have been financially devastated by the pandemic. 

The performing arts industry has also been hit very hard this year. Virtual Shindig is a way for us to offer our talented creative freelancers work, at a time when many of their Christmas tours have sadly been cancelled. They are the heart of our organisation and we’re so excited to be working with them on this project. 

Leading on and the visionary behind Virtual Shindig is none other than Helen Lacey, author of ‘Let’s Talk to Mummy’s Tummy’ and Enact Solutions’ Creative Producer! Helen’s spark for Virtual Shindig ignited in September after she saw how many shows and work events were being cancelled. Concerned about the impact on peoples’ resilience and wellbeing and being passionate about bringing lightness and laughter into people’s lives, Virtual Shindig blazed into being!

It’s been non-stop since then as we’ve been making creative content, promoting Virtual Shindig and receiving lots of bookings! We’ve chatted with Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland, appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Somerset and been interviewed by the BBC Business Website team! 

“This is something that will bring work colleagues together in laughter, you know, just proper belly laughs, that’s what we’re really aiming for,” said Helen Lacey on BBC News.

As well as fun and frolics, Virtual Shindig is about something special – offering companies a way to say a heartfelt thank you to their teams, for all the work they’ve done under incredibly challenging circumstances in 2020. With big, gold, BAFTA style envelopes, we’ll be announcing winners of special awards and celebrating individual and collaborative successes! It’s a celebratory end-of-year works party which reflects on and honours staff for everything they have achieved this year.

As CIPD says: ‘Christmas can be a great opportunity for employers to reward staff for their hard work and show they are valued. It’s also a chance for co-workers to relax and socialise with each other, which can boost morale and engagement.’

Virtual Shindig runs from 9th December 2020 to mid/late January 2021. Companies can choose whether to finish 2020 on a high, or kick start the new year with a fun event! We have time slots throughout the day and evening, but if our times don’t suit, please get in touch and we’ll try our best to accommodate you. We’re receiving bookings every day, so don’t delay!

We can facilitate groups of all different sizes, from 30 employees up to 600! Prices start from £1500 depending on group size and don’t forget staff parties can be a tax deductible expense!

After booking your Virtual Shindig, all you need to do is pop on your xmas hat, wrap some tinsel round your shoulders and let us entertain you!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and New Year,

Jemma Houghton


Jemma Houghton is one of our Associates at Enact Solutions. She’s been blogging for us on a number of topics and is really passionate about raising awareness and having conversations on resilience and well-being.