Flexible working boosted by COVID-19 in the town planning industry

Written by: Jennifer Jackson
Published on: 24 Mar 2021

Penguin Recruitment

Matt Fraser, team manager - planning at Penguin Recruitment, shares his insights into the pandemic impact on flexible working trends and what it means for candidates and employers.

Penguin Flex Working

A couple of years ago, flexible working in the town planning sector was highly sought after, and although many businesses were starting to recognise the need to offer flexi-working, many town planners were still concerned their employers were reluctant. How things have changed. We spoke to Matt Fraser, team manager - planning at Penguin Recruitment, about how flexible working trends have changed across the sector as a result of the pandemic.

Matt, when we spoke two years ago, flexible working was becoming an increasingly sought after benefit when looking for a new role. That seems almost like a non-issue now with the pandemic forcing businesses to adapt to home-working. Or is it?

Historically, the public sector held this benefit as one of its big USPs over the private sector. However, the pandemic has changed that and most private sector clients we speak to now are suggesting flexible working will continue post Covid which really evens up the scales.

What does flexible working now look like in the planning industry?

Most companies and job seekers that we are speaking with have been set up to work from home full-time.  Where it’s been safe to do so, we have seen some staff (albeit typically at a more senior level) in the office, usually on a part-time basis.  When restrictions lifted between waves we saw more people return to the office, again mainly on a part-time basis and less so in hugely built up areas like London. What does it look like? Think slippers and a shirt, laptop and a mobile and you’ll likely be along the right lines!

Have you noticed any changes in relationships between employers and their employees? 

Yes. I think lockdown has demonstrated that planners can all do the job well from home, as well as in the office. Ultimately, we were thrust into this position and companies had to trust their employees to do the job as best they could under strained conditions (I’m thinking of my personal experience trying to work in the house with a toddler running around in the background!).
And our planners have gone on to deliver some fantastic results across the country.  Since the leaders of most organisations have also faced the same issues, I believe it has helped companies forge more trusting relationships with their employees, along with an unbelievable amount of respect for Britain’s teachers.

Has productivity been positively or negatively impacted by the pandemic and why?

This is an interesting question and I believe the answer depends on where you are based geographically, and of course at different times of the pandemic.  At the beginning (March and April 2020), almost everyone halted recruitment and went about contacting all of their clients to understand what impact it had on their intentions to develop.  However, since May 2020, we have seen a steady increase in requirements coming back out to us and had all of our team back from furlough by July.

We have even recorded a record month in August which is an especially staggering achievement given the fact we have been successfully trading for over 16 years!

Do you think people will continue to work from home after social distancing restrictions end? 

Great question, and of course it’s on everyone’s mind since the end is in sight and we have all become accustomed to working at home.  The general consensus from the clients we have been speaking to across the public and private sectors is that flexible working arrangements will continue post-covid.  Some have suggested 100% home working is on the table, and others welcome a mix of working from home and back working in the office.

What kind of work/life balance can town planners now expect? 

A TUC study in 2019 had the national average commute as 59 minutes, which is essentially two hours per day. Getting back two hours per day, a couple of times per week, is massive for most people. Put it this way, it’s the equivalent to a fitness or yoga session plus getting dinner sorted.

Town planners can expect to have that little bit more time saved through not commuting to enjoy with their families, on sports and hobbies, or even catching up on that housework! A wider benefit of course is less congested roads, arguably less stress first and last thing and better mental health. Something we can all get behind.

As candidates take the driving seat again, how can employers win the top talent?

It’s important to provide detailed job descriptions so job seekers can make informed decisions on applications. In addition to this, listing the company’s USPs, salary and benefits information, and outlining what flexible working arrangements are available, are all musts.  One of the six main reasons people move on is down to career progression so some information on what advancement is available will definitely ‘pull people in’.

And lastly, one of the main frustrations we face as recruiters is slow feedback.  In the town planning market, candidates often have multiple options and will prioritise companies that demonstrate interest by moving quickly.  If you take two weeks to provide feedback on a candidate’s CV, don’t be surprised if they have been through two interviews and accepted a job offer by then!

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