Will UK Housing And House Prices Adapt To A World Of Remote Work?

House prices are a divisive topic. Many people stare at the telephone-number prices for houses and flats in the UK and feel that even the deposit on a mortgage will be difficult to find without the “Bank of Mum & Dad.” Others talk proudly about their home as if it is an investment that can easily be cashed in at any time – which ignores that if you ever want to enjoy that increase in value then you still need to buy another home to replace it.

The latest house price index from Zoopla suggests that in the year to August 2022 UK house prices increased by around 8.3% – with the average home value reaching £256,600. Six months ago the rate of growth was 9.6% so some are pointing to a slowdown, but Zoopla suggests that if you look at the numbers over a five-year period then growth is still looking strong.

Demand for homes has declined a little since the immediate post-pandemic months, but it is still 25% stronger than the five-year average. This unexpected resilience in housing has led Zoopla to predict more sales and stronger price growth in 2022 than expected at the start of the year.

Commenting to Mortgage Strategy magazine, Hargreaves Lansdown senior pensions and retirement analyst Helen Morrissey says: “The impact of the pandemic continues to be felt as the shift to flexible working makes people reconsider their living arrangements and maybe make the move to somewhere a bit further afield that is more affordable. The increase in people choosing to retire as a result of the pandemic is also fuelling activity and house prices growth remains well supported for the time being.”

These two trends are interesting. Although the UK is being buffeted by a cost of living crisis and high inflation, there are changes taking place in the housing market that are not just driven by people sitting back and watching their house grow more valuable.

People deciding to retire early because of the pandemic are downsizing and moving to less expensive areas, but perhaps more importantly, people are seeing their home as a workplace more than ever. This means that they are seeking homes in areas where they can afford more space and the home office is becoming an integral requirement during many home searches today.

The post-pandemic ability of many people to work-from-home (WFH) in the UK is fueling growth in sales. The Zoopla research suggests that those who expect to be WFH more often are now five times more likely to move home than those tied to an office. The UK Office for National Statistics has published data suggesting that the number of workers logging in remotely more than doubled over the pandemic, bringing the total of regular remote workers to around 9.7 million.

As the Zoopla research suggests, with a group of almost ten million people in the UK now regularly WFH, it is no surprise that what people want from a home is changing.This group of millions of people in the UK is more prepared to move home, they want to explore the suburbs or smaller towns so they can afford more space, and a home office is essential. 

This creates many questions beyond exploring the growth in home value alone. Will new home developers respond quickly to this trend and how will new homes look, feel, and be marketed in the near future?

In the next year or two, it may not just be the cost of living crisis that changes the UK property market. This block of ten million remote workers could create more fundamental change than the property market has ever seen since the development of railways allowed the creation of suburbs.

Webinar Recording: Addressing Today’s Key Homeworking Challenges 

 

In our recent webinar hosted by the South West Contact Centre Forum, we  discussed key homeworking issues facing businesses today, including:

  • How to better manage the consequences of cost of living increases
  • Dealing with vulnerable customers
  • Overcoming recruitment challenges with a WFH/hybrid model
  • Addressing ‘time to competency’ concerns
  • Employee engagement in a WFH/hybrid setting
  • Retraining team leaders to better manage/communicate with homeworkers
  • Bursting the bubble of WFM misconceptions
  • Using WFH resources to overcome imbalances in consumer demand

Jane Thomas, Managing Director of the SWCCF, chaired the event which featured Sensée’s Jo Hodge (Service Delivery Manager) and Jo Mallalieu (Team Leader).

The webinar is now available on replay so if you want to hear our team talking about all these points in more detail. Please go to https://bit.ly/3JD9VHe Passcode: HtL+G?0N

What Is The Right Personality For WFH Team Members?

How much is work-from-home (WFH) success about the personality of the people on the team?

During the pandemic, when so many organisations were forced to adopt WFH practices, there were many reports of people who hated it. They wanted to be in the office surrounded by people and their complaints were often viewed as a normal reaction to the ‘isolation’ of WFH. 

But the opposite is also true, plenty of people really have grown to love the WFH environment. They don’t have the disturbance of constant interruptions. They can get on with their work and focus on it in a way that is far more productive than an office environment. Indeed a leading UK recruitment consultant posted this week that they’d had 14 times as many people apply for a fully remote role than for a hybrid (home/office) one.

So is it possible to identify ‘ideal’ personality traits that could be encouraged when hiring people to WFH? And if managers were focused on the personality traits required for WFH then could they take this approach even further? Could having the right traits for WFH, for example, be a good reason to be promoted? 

We can see that in an office environment it is often the people with the best social skills and connections that get on and sometimes to the detriment of those that are more productive. Would this be entirely different when measuring people based on WFH performance?

I believe there could be several differences. We’ve seen through lockdown that many WFH teams have been managed with a strong focus on what they’ve achieved, with less of a focus on who is friendly with who inside the company. Of course all these connections can still exist but the nature of remote work means that tangible results can be a more valuable currency.

The questions posed above are important for any company that has a strong corporate identity and culture because WFH adds a new dimension. Not only do you need to recruit people that are ideal for representing the brand, but you need to also ensure they have the right personality for WFH.

Think about different brands like Google, John Lewis, GiffGaff, Virgin, or TikTok. They all have a strong sense of identity. They have a brand and people immediately know that service from Virgin will be different to that from John Lewis. 

In a traditional contact centre environment those differences can be reinforced through training and by team leaders; in the WFH environment – where training and team leadership is equally, if not more, important – it is also important that the personality of people who flourish in the WFH environment is taken into account in order to bring about success.

There are many personality experts and tests out there – not many of them appear to have much scientific weight, but it’s clear that introverts and extroverts usually respond to home working in a different way. However, the stereotype is that introverts are happy to sit at home working alone and extroverts need to feed off groups of people in an office to gain their energy.

In the modern WFH environment this advice is dated. Many Gen Z are entirely comfortable spending time socialising with friends online. They grew up using chat and they now talk to friends in the evening when playing Fortnite. Being social or responding as an extrovert is no longer restricted to literally being in a room with a large number of people.

Many WFH environments, such as the LiveDesk Digital Workplace we use at Sensée, are designed to allow colleagues to work together, train together, and even socialise together without needing to be in the same place.

I think there are some interesting questions here that are worth more exploration because it’s clear that some personalities work better in the WFH environment, but then not every WFH environment is the same. We need to consider adviser personality during hiring and training, but in an entirely new way that acknowledges how they can fit into the team and contribute to the success of the organisation.

Workshop Recording: Does WFH Really Make Business Sense?

Our team recently ran an online training workshop hosted by the Welsh Contact Centre Forum.

Sandra Busby, owner of the WCCF, chaired the event which featured:

The focus of the workshop was: Does WFH Work? Does it make business sense?

Naturally you might expect the Sensée team to support WFH, but this was structured as a session where the group could share experience and insight, rather than just evangelise for work-from-home operations.

It’s true that as the pandemic subsided there were many calls for WFH to go the same way. However, many employees found they were more productive outside of the office environment so there is a strong reason why many executives may want to investigate their options before making a decision one way or the other.

Our team outlined eight specific questions that executives need to explore when deciding if a WFH business case makes sense for them:

  1. Will it work for our business? The simplest, but most fundamental question is whether your employees are engaged in tasks that can be performed remotely. Most office-based work could potentially be performed from home, but if in-person service is required then clearly it will either be impossible or a hybrid option will need to be considered.
  2. Is it what our people want? It’s best to ask your people what they want. Everyone has experienced a great deal of change in the workplace in the past couple of years. How would they prefer to work moving forward? The 2020 HomeAgent Survey found that 74.2% of homeworkers enjoy a better work/life balance and 85.9% say they have eliminated all commuting expenses.
  3. What’s the financial case? There are many more variables to consider than just a reduction in rented office space. It is well documented that teams based in the home are more productive, are absent less often, and attrition also declines. How would all these changes affect the revenue model of your business? 
  4. What’s the best hybrid model for us? How should you organise your teams? There are choices to make over time in the office or home – some employees may mix and match or stay in one location 100% of the time. Will this be led by the employers or mandated by the company? How flexible will the system be to allow changes in operation or preferences?
  5. How do we overcome barriers? The 2020 HomeAgent Survey tells us that security, technology, and remote management are the three biggest perceived barriers to change – once managers get over the initial idea of not managing people they can see in person. However, the pandemic has been a testing ground so most managers will have now seen what is possible.
  6. How will we support homeworker self-scheduling? Working from home supports an increase in flexibility that would have been impossible with the traditional commute to an office. Employees should be able to choose their own schedule based on an indication of when they are needed – so a more flexible system that works for both the employee and the business should be possible.
  7. How are we going to support WFH teams? At Sensée we use our LiveDesk Digital Workplace service. It connects everyone in the business together just as if they were in the office in person. This type of connectivity is essential. You cannot send a worker home and hope that a weekly Zoom call is enough to stay in touch – a rethink of how constant social communication takes place is needed.
  8. Do we need a proof-of-concept pilot? This may depend on your Covid experience, but if you are planning to test the water with a pilot then think carefully about who should be involved in building the strategy and the profile of the people you hire – how can you start hiring the kind of people that thrive in a WFH environment?

The entire online workshop is available on replay so if you want to hear our team talking about all these points in more detail, with lots of examples.  Please go to
https://bit.ly/3xwtH2H Passcode: F03G4K4@

(Webinar) Dealing with Seasonal Peaks, Uneven Weekly Demand, and Unexpected Call Spikes

TUESDAY JULY 19TH, 12 – 1PM (BST)

This webinar will look at the role home and hybrid working can play in meeting contact centre staffing challenges associated with the upcoming 2022 retail peaks (such as Black Friday and the festive season) as well as other uneven/unexpected peaks in consumer contact traffic.

Sensée’s Simon Hunter will firstly explain the benefits that businesses are enjoying through home and hybrid working – and discuss common remote worker management issues.

Sensée’s Claire Benbow will then highlight recent examples of where home and hybrid working was successfully used to address:

– Weekly and seasonal peak challenges for a major UK high street retailer
– Seasonal demand challenges for a well known online retailer
– Weekly peak challenges for a major global healthcare provider

Finally, during an extended Q&A session, attendees will have the opportunity to discuss their most burning contact centre homeworking issues.

Register for the webinar today

Can Employers Address The Cost Of Living Crisis By Asking Employees To Stay At Home?

The UK is facing a cost of living crisis. Energy costs are up. Petrol prices are up. Food costs are dramatically increasing. Inflation is at a level not seen for decades and the business commentators are now talking about a recession.

There is a war in Europe and everything is costing more. Watching the news feels like running a marathon these days.

But there are some practical steps that company executives can take to help their employees weather this crisis. One of the most basic is that office-based employees should be encouraged to work from home as much as possible.

We know that it worked throughout the pandemic. Even before the pandemic there was detailed academic research proving that remote workers can be more productive than their office-based colleagues doing the same job. They don’t get the same interruptions at home.

In the early days of the pandemic, when workers had to rapidly move to working from home, many companies did not pay much attention to the potential for isolation. This was probably because most companies felt that the lockdowns were going to be temporary, all over in a few weeks. As they all found out, it is possible to create a more social online and remote working environment. It was required when companies realised that the pandemic might last a couple of years and it can now ensure that remote workers do feel like they are an integral part of the team.

Think what you are offering your employees if you suggest to them that they can just work from home most of the time.

  • No commuting: especially important for commuters using a car. The average sized car now costs over £105 to refill. Petrol is now so expensive in the UK that forecourt theft is now common – people are filling up and driving off and just hoping that they are not caught. Rail ticket prices are going up and right now the network is subject to a wave of strikes, so it’s not even reliable to use trains for commuting at present. Telling your employees they no longer need to regularly commute is a major bonus for most – in terms of time saved and cash not spent just travelling to work.
  • No coffee: teams in the office often visit Starbucks to refuel during the day. If you look at the Starbucks menu (other coffee brands are similarly priced) then it’s easy to see that just a few coffees can be around £10 a day – that’s a lot of cash over a month. It’s no surprise that rival Pret A Manger actually offers a coffee subscription where customers can pay a fixed fee of £25 a month to get up to 5 coffees a day.
  • No lunch: But talking of lunch at Pret – it can easily cost £10 for a chicken sandwich with some juice and a hot drink or snack. Eating lunch at home is far cheaper than buying meals from a sandwich store near your office.

There are some companies in the UK that are exploring other ideas – often because they are looking at cultural standards globally. For example, in countries such as Brazil and Japan it is normal for an employer to pay the commuting costs of an employee AND ALSO to cover the cost of their lunch in a restaurant every day.

Just imagine how it might change the commuting dynamic in the UK if your employer paid for all your train tickets and also all those sandwiches from Pret?

It’s unlikely that any major changes like this will ever be widespread in the UK though. Some individual companies may explore benefits like this as part of a plan to be more attractive to employees, but the reality is that most employers can offer more immediate help to their employees by not forcing them to pay for all these costs in the first place.

The news is looking fairly grim, but recessions always end eventually. What can you do right now to help your employees reduce their costs? 

Companies Need Flexibility To Handle All Unforeseen Circumstances – Even A National Rail Strike

Throughout the Covid pandemic there was a constant debate in the media and on business platforms, such as LinkedIn, around when workers would return to the office. It was an ongoing debate around how much has changed or will change with workplace culture and traditional practices – such as commuting.

McKinsey said that companies would need to embrace the ‘next normal.’ They believe that working practices have fundamentally changed. Many analysts starting calling the post-covid work environment a new normal, but I think that McKinsey were more insightful by declaring that there will be a change, but this will then lead to further change.

When McKinsey asked employees all over the world if they wanted to return to a traditional 9-5 shift from Monday to Friday in a corporate office almost 9 in 10 people said no (87%). All these people insisted that their experience throughout the pandemic has led them to believe that working from home is viable and preferable.

Naturally, many leaders have tried to opt for a third way – the hybrid. This is when the company retains their offices, but mandates that employees must attend the office occasionally. The guidelines on this differ from company to company, but it is becoming clear that a large number of companies are now allowing home working on Mondays and Fridays with an expectation that employees will commute to the office for 2-3 days a week.

But arranging this hybrid option also creates new difficulties. If the purpose of spending some time in the office is to meet with colleagues then the office and home days need to be aligned. It takes away the flexibility of a hybrid option if the company starts mandating the days when workers must attend the office, but what is the alternative?

The reality is that many workers are now returning to the office only to find that their office day does not match with colleagues so they are commuting just to spend all day on video calls they could have done at home.

It feels like companies embracing this hybrid model are fearful of a completely remote model. They talk about ‘water-cooler moments’ in the office that can ‘spark innovation’ and yet even before the pandemic most business experts were advising leaders that the office environment kills productivity through constant interruptions.

The review company Yelp has faced this challenge. They used to have mostly office-based employees and went entirely remote throughout the pandemic. They tried to move into a hybrid post-pandemic model, but the CEO has called it ‘hell.’ Yelp doesn’t believe that hybrid work really functions and is led mostly by executives that want to keep using the office they paid for. 

Yelp is closing down offices and doubling-down on an entirely remote work culture. The CEO indicated that employees can work for the company from anywhere indefinitely. Yelp believes that there will be considerable savings from their office closures and this is being reinvested into new staff perks. The company does plan to organise in-person events that will allow teams to meet and socialise, but there is a complete focus on remote work being the future of the company.

The kind of flexibility this will give to Yelp is impressive. It’s something that more British companies may want to embrace. The UK is a smaller country than the US and it has a comprehensive rail network so employees based anywhere can get together for events fairly easily.

But speaking of the UK rail network, look at the recent headlines focused on a national strike affecting service for over a week. Commuters facing misery. Employees told to work from home. More strikes may follow… just imagine if your entire team was not relying on the rail network because they were already working from home.

There are many different situations where a remote work from home strategy can help a company to remain agile and productive. Why would any business leader want to return to the days of a long commute and dependence on transport networks and office landlords? There is another way, the next normal.

Sensée’s Jo Hodge named Outsourced Contact Centre Manager of the Year

Sensée Service Delivery Manager Jo Hodge has been named the Gold winner in the ‘Outsourced Contact Centre Manager of the Year’ category of the 2022 UK National Contact Centre Awards (UKNCC Awards). 

‘Outsourced Contact Centre Manager of the Year’ recognises Managers that have demonstrated key leadership skills in the last 12 months which had an impact on their team, team performance, or the relationship with their client.

The UKNCC Awards winners were announced at a gala awards dinner at Old Billingsgate, a prestigious Central London event venue on Monday night.

At the event, Sensée Team Manager Emma Gunner was also recognised as a finalist in the ‘Rising Star in a Large Contact Centre’ category.

The Awards event was organised and operated by the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA), an organisation that has been bringing contact centre leaders together to share best practice and experiences for over 25 years. The UKNCC Awards, in its 27th Year, is the longest running contact centre awards programme in the UK.

Simon Hunter, CCO, Sensée, commented, “Huge congratulations to Jo. She is an awesome and very hard working leader and all Sensée colleagues are delighted with her success. Very well deserved! I’d also like to congratulate the CCMA for putting on such a wonderful event, and all the winners and finalists for their achievements and amazing stories.”

How Green is Your Work-From-Home Household? (The Winners – Part 2)

Yesterday, we highlighted two of the winners’ stories from our recent ‘How Green is Your Household’ internal competition, showing how committed many of our homeworkers are to protecting the environment and reducing their carbon footprint.

Here are two more.  These are Victoria and Jasmine’s stories….

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“When I think about how green my home is I think about all the small things that make a difference.

We recycle our paper, plastic, glass and tins, we use reusable glass containers which we take to the fill station at our local supermarket for things like sugar, flour and rice.

Victoria collage

We upcycle our old furniture instead of buying new to match our rooms. Furniture manufacturing is one of the planet’s biggest causes of greenhouse gas omissions so just simply painting old furniture can make such a difference.

I have chosen not to drive and I can’t justify the impact on my carbon footprint. And of course working from home has a huge benefit on our environment. Using smart meters to manage my energy consumption is not only saving money but lowering carbon footprints – every little thing adds up.

I am at heart an environmentalist. I believe education is worth its weight in gold, so during the first lockdown I started and ran a local wildlife group, the Rossendale Wildlife Group which now has over 2000 members. We share images of our amazing wildlife to educate people on why it is so important to care for the world we live in.

We work in conjunction with our local civic pride group to provide street cleaning services where volunteers pick up rubbish, maintain community gardens, install bird nesting boxes and much more. The group brings attention to environmental issues locally and on a global scale and we provide information for our members to do their bit for the world.

Wildlife photography is big part of my life capturing the amazing flora and fauna we have to inspire people to get out and about and see what they can see themselves. I am very lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country and I want it to stay beautiful.”

Victoria

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“I have actively been trying to live a more sustainable life and have made both small and big changes. I:

  • Drive less and walk more 
  • Consciously consider purchases if they contain single use plastic and make sure to try and re-use packaging if I don’t have any other option
  • Don’t buy plastic containers and opt for glass options, when out I make sure I always have my bamboo cutlery as well as reusable bags
  • Make my own body soaps, creams and shampoos to help reduce the number of plastic bottles within our household and also gift this to friends and family
  • Frequent beaches quiet often and also take my gloves and do a cleanup, this started when I once was on holiday and shocked at the litter, after filling up 2 bags very quickly I made it a habit to clean areas I visit

Jasmine collage

  • Am part of a local community group where you can exchange and offer items you no longer need. I also post items I no longer need and offer them on to someone else who might (as this may save them purchasing new and stops an item reaching landfill so quickly)
  • Have recently started growing my own vegetables, starting with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, chillis and peppers 
  • As a rule of thumb I try really hard to follow this rule: reduce, reuse, recycle…. with each decision I make”

Jasmine

 

How Green is Your Work-From-Home Household? (The Winners – Part 1)

Every working day Sensée employees play their part in helping the environment….. by avoiding the daily commute.

But for many colleagues, their commitment to the environmental goes a lot deeper.

Here are two of the winners’ stories from our recent ‘How Green is Your Household’ internal competition.

These are Donna and Rachel’s stories….

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“In our home we really enjoy finding ways to support and help our lovely world. We recycle all the usual suspects (paper, glass and plastics), clothes and toys and share with friends and local charities.

We also buy eco-friendly household products whenever possible and the odd box full of fruit and veg (a brilliant scheme set up to stop hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste).

Donna Collage 2

I’ve just started an etsy shop called Pops Vintage Home where I sell vintage furniture. I love the process of taking something that’s about to go off to the tip and giving it some love and care ready for someone else to use and enjoy. I use eco-friendly and natural products whenever possible when working with the furniture.

Finally, we recycle old magazines to make collages/life boards filled with inspiring quotes and images. It’s fun to create and lovely to stop and look at and the images and words afterwards. They help us stay positive and focused.”

Donna

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“My garden was an uneven overgrown space and I‘ve transformed it with recycled materials.

I posted on social media asking for free scrap metal, wood, plants and anything odd that people had hanging around. I had a great response and this is what I’ve done with it all……

  • I’ve taken some old radiators and placed a threaded rod through them to make railings. The structure doubles up as a climber for my passion flower (Donated by a random old lady!)
  • Acquired an old gate (from a skip) and supported this by 2 lock cheeks that were donated by the Canal and River Trust
  • Taken an 8ft old pole from someone’s garden, topped it with a glass skull and filled it with solar fairy lightsRachel pics
  • My next door neighbour was throwing out a BBQ. I chopped it up and mixed it with some wood and metal scraps to make a very strange planter
  • Old Belfast sink and strange glass thing from a local school science lab (I did make a donation!). Not sure what I am doing with it yet but it is attached to my veg growing bed that is made out of recycled decking boards
  • A donated bird station that I upgraded to include a walking rail, water funnel and emergency tap
  • Self-made pond from donated sleepers, a concrete step and donated plant cuttings. In 2 years, I now have frogs, crested newts and a paddling pool for Buddy!
  • I refurbished some old tractor lights with Leds and hard wired them for ambient lighting… for when one has friends over for drinks and nibbles

Rachel