Want to keep working in shorts and flipflops way after this is all over? It could be time to rethink your career moves

Pandemic has opened a can of worms for our work goals with what comes next


Feature It may not be your fault that your broadband is crap, but it is your problem when you're interviewing over Zoom or even Teams.

One of the good things to come out of lockdown is that IT pros seem to be a lot more appreciated, which means now is a good time to start pushing for a raise since we are at the sweet spot of high visible productivity and understanding that there is possibly more to come as we remember that corporate gratitude is as alien to them as porn is to fish.

I've spent time talking with IT pros and their management about what we can usefully learn about tech jobs as we move to some sort of normality. Obviously there has been an uptick in demand for skills to enable people to work at home and that will last for a while yet, though the skill of saying "No I don't know why Microsoft Teams is down again" in a way that doesn't alienate users is perhaps the best to have. Flinging over that link to Downdetector.co.uk might be an even better way to deflect their howls of anguish away from you.

Interviewing for new jobs has got easier, not requiring travel or days off in many cases, and seem to have drifted more towards functional skills. But although it may not be your fault that your wise words on DevOps in fintech gets garbled by a bad connection, it is your problem and the pain they feel trying to hear you can seriously hurt your chances. Even though the difference can be small, it is well worth the effort to run an old-school patch cable to your machine, no matter how ugly it looks.

I have had two cases reported to me of candidates blatantly looking up answers on the web during Zoom interviews, and likely there are many more. You could argue that "anything you can Google and understand" is part of your skill set, but it looks really bad and interacting with another app makes you look shifty. That leads to my tip of moving your camera so it sits in the middle of the video image so that you're looking them in the eye, making your more fanciful claims of NoSQL wizardry seem more plausible.

Beware HR bearing gifts

Having skilled people spend 10 hours a week on commuting was never efficient, but managers clung to the 20th-century idea that seeing the back of your head while you stared at a screen was some sort of management strategy, and the number of hours at the office correlated with what you delivered.

Every IT pro I spoke to was clear they were now more productive in the hundred days of solitude, especially those whose dim-witted employers seem to genuinely feel that it is more efficient to save 500 quid a year on office space by putting 50k-per-year professionals in noisy crowded offices and then complain when they put on headphones to keep out the worst of the interruptions.

That being said, it was the younger ones who seemed less keen. Working from home used to be a perk, but now it can be a threat. Talking to HRs and senior management at larger firms, COVID has given them the impetus to split the workforce the way they've wanted to for ages.

Among themselves they use terms like "Resources" and "Core", with the latter being those who have to come in more often or even full time because they work with clients and senior management. So if you're a "Resource", the new relationship will be more transactional and project-based, even if market forces means your pay is still good.

However, the drop in face time is both a sign that you aren't going to get promoted and/or trained as well. We see managers explicitly telling staff that their efforts to keep coming in will be remembered, which is both true and where we start getting legal about things. So I spoke with Helen Farr, employment partner at Taylor Wessing, to make sure I did not mislead you too much.

That sort of thing may sound benign, but treating staff differently who may have health, childcare, and other issues is a discrimination case waiting to happen – especially since men seem to have been the beneficiaries of such moves.

A privilege, not a right

Unless it is in your contract, you don't have a right to work at home, no matter how much you prefer it and they can make you come back as long as they make reasonable adjustments. Unless, that is, they've neglected to do a risk assessment, taken proper precautions or you have a genuine health issue or live with someone shielding. Believing a celebrity that the vaccine puts you under Bill Gates' 5G mind control is not a health issue unless you want to claim mental health problems.

Specifically, the risks of travel to work are your problem, not theirs, unless it is an extreme case involving them making you brave blizzards and dodgy moorland roads. However, you can acquire an implied term to your employment if it goes on long enough, though we don't seem to have quite reached that point yet. Many firms make an adjustment to pay if you're in an expensive area and, as Facebook has shown, can get quite vicious with staff hired in expensive locations who then dial in from cheaper homes further way. That has crossed the Atlantic and the next round of employment contracts are going to include issues like this, not all of which are unreasonable, especially with Europe.

The price British workers pay for the country's ability to create more jobs is that Brits are among the easiest to fire in Europe, so if, as some IT pros have already done, you decide that southern France is a nicer place to write code in December than Lewisham, there are legal issues. Do it for a while and you are liable to that country's tax, employment, and, since Brexit, right-to-work regulations. That's a potential headache for your employer, especially since somewhere in the region of 25 to 35 per cent of people working in Britain also have the right to work abroad, with Ireland having 10 per cent all by itself. Trying to get that right is expensive for companies, especially if they get it wrong.

You're just a bitmap now

Also speaking to managers who have fired people, I learned that the negative effect on morale and retention has fallen off a cliff now that they work with bitmaps, not beer-drinking friends and colleagues, and they are actively wondering what to do with this new power. So there are conversations to be had when negotiating your new job about how hybrid working is actually implemented. We've heard a lot of woke posturing about the many firms that aren't ever going back to the old ways, which has gone rather more quiet of late.

Employers that value workers most like Goldman Sachs have long offered help with childcare, with their "emergency nannies" to ensure they squeeze every possible minute from staff. Again, these are somewhere between perks and expediency, not quite rights they can't take away. Asking for childcare, however, opens the sex discrimination door that HR won't normally touch since it implies you might have problems in that area, so best to ask more general questions on their support for home workers and see if it comes up.

Also you may find your new potential employer has a harder line on what you may or may not do on home machines, even though most offer no help at all for better broadband or other home-working costs. There is even the potential for some deep costs as your home office is now an office that could be stung for business rates under certain conditions. Insurers will find any excuse not to pay up, not only for a burglar nicking your laptop with personal and business info on, but also if your home has a fire.

Even before lockdown, a surprisingly large percentage of IT pros have always responded to the idea of commuting into London with tones normally reserved for one-way trips bearing rings of power, even when offered rather more money, but some contractors now find themselves with London clients (and the formless hell of IR35) and staff with managers they've never actually met. Given what I'm told, employers that try to push hard for a return to the old normal are going to suffer more attrition than they think, even though it will take a year or so to become noticeable.

So if you want to keep working in your slippers, you may need to brush up your CV. ®

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