By Victoria Masterson

THE pandemic is a chance to fundamentally change working patterns and long-held ideas like the five-day week and routine hours, a major conference in Scotland heard.

“One of the biggest shifts we may see as a result of the pandemic is genuine change in patterns and ways of working,” said Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the professional body for human resources and people development professionals.

He was addressing the Online CIPD Scotland Conference 2021, which was hosted virtually at the University of Edinburgh Business School and was the body’s largest-ever event in Scotland, attracting more than 750 attendees. The Herald was media partner for the event.

Lockdown was “the biggest experiment in home working ever,” Mr Cheese said, and was accelerating changes that had been talked about for years.

“Our paradigms of work are about five-day working weeks, and routine and standard hours. All these ideas have been with us for a very long time. And despite all the technologies and technology developments, we hadn’t seen a really significant shift in things like flexible working and working patterns for a very long time. Now we have a chance to change some of those things.”

The pandemic and issues like social isolation and job insecurity had also accelerated the debate about mental wellbeing.

“Mental wellbeing has been on the agenda for some time, but we haven’t done enough to really tackle it – it still remains something of a stigma,” Mr Cheese said. “One of the things we’ve done much more during the pandemic is to talk more openly about how we’re feeling. How are we, really? We are building more compassion into our workplaces. I refer to it also as putting the ‘human’ back into ‘human resources.’”

He warned against letting inclusion slip down the agenda in the pressure to respond to Covid-19.

“As we come through the pandemic, there may be more of an economic crisis, where jobs are perhaps more under threat and a lot of restructuring is happening.

“We have to be mindful of that and not lose our focus on diversity, inclusion and equality.”

Managers will have to be better developed and supported at all levels to handle issues like wellbeing, inclusion and stress.

“Historically, we haven’t done a good enough job in supporting our managers,” he said. “We’ve expected often that they should do these things, but then haven’t fully trained or supported them.”

On skills, Mr Cheese said CIPD and partner bodies including the Confederation of British Industry and British Chambers of Commerce had been developing a common framework and language to describe transferable skills – such as listening, problem-solving and creativity – for people moving between sectors.

Lee Ann Panglea, CIPD’s head of Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “This year has been an extraordinary year for the profession, to be front and centre of navigating significant people and organisational challenges across Scotland.”

Tennis coach Judy Murray gave the closing keynote on developing high performance teams in sport and beyond. She said: “The life skills that you can learn by being part of sport are huge. Understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses, how to communicate, leadership skills, problem solving, resilience.”

When there are difficult times in sport, it’s the team and family around you – the people who care about you, understand you and also know what you’re trying to do – who are important.

“They’re solid, calm and unconditional, and they help you to set small goals. What’s the problem? What things need to be fixed? What needs to be changed? What’s going on in your life that may have contributed to this bump, that has nothing to do with the sport?

“So there needs to be an outlet. There needs to be understanding and sympathy. And then there needs to be a plan. Because as soon as there’s a plan, you can start to move forward.”