Unilever: remote working will continue for good

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2 min read
AUTHOR: Matt Ridout
Food tech events

In a new indication of the way the coronavirus pandemic is having long-lasting effects, Unilever boss Alan Jope says remote working will continue after the pandemic, and office workers won’t return to their desks full time once the pandemic is over. Having been able to adapt and make big changes to the way they worked due to the lockdowns, he says the company will look to adopt new working patterns long into the future.

Unilever is the third most valuable company on the London Stock Exchange, and counts brands like Hellman’s, Knorr, Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s and more among its portfolio of products. In most of the company’s main markets, like the UK and the US, stay at home orders have forced the company’s office staff to work from home the majority of the time.

Speaking on Wednesday at a Reuters conference, Jope said he did not expect office workers across western Europe and north America to return to work until at least April, and added that Unilever would use a “hybrid mode” of remote working and offices after that. Permanent changes are expected for many of its 150,000 global employees, 7,000 of whom are in the UK.

“We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office,” Jope said. “That seems very old-fashioned now.” He also said the pandemic had made it clear that the company did not need to be as hierarchical.

However, he added that Unilever was still keen to return to offices after seeing a “slow erosion of social capital” as working from home prevents colleagues from meeting in person. Many business leaders have voiced concerns about lack of innovation and the impact on training younger staff when workers do not congregate.

Unilever is already experimenting with working practices. In New Zealand, its staff are trialling a four-day week, making it one of the biggest companies to consider reducing the hours its employees work, after a number of smaller firms found it helped productivity and employees’ wellbeing.

Jope also confirmed that the company wanted to encourage COVID-vaccinations for its employees but was not planning on making them compulsory for workers.

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