Companies may try to 'expand their use of contract vehicles' due to COVID-19: Brian Kropp

Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner spoke with HRreview and said that in response to COVID-19, companies may try to “expand their use of contract vehicles” and that almost a third of businesses “are planning on shifting some employees from traditional full-time employment models to zero-hour or more contingent contracts.”

HRreview: Zero-hours contracts are generally disliked, do you see an increase in their usage in the work marketplace, or do you think there will be other types of contractual terms offered?

Mr Kropp: As companies start to open back up and rehire, they want to maintain maximum flexibility. If they rehire someone on a more traditional contract, and then business demand does not follow as expected, they will have to then let that person go once again. Instead, companies are much more interested in expanding their use of contract vehicles, even if it is more expensive in the short run to maintain flexibility.

32 per cent of companies, as they open up, are planning on shifting some employees from traditional full-time employment models to zero-hour or more contingent contracts.

HRreview: Do you feel remote working will be hardwired into general terms and conditions?

Mr Kropp: There are certainly many jobs that can’t be done remotely full time (e.g. working in a lab, working in a manufacturing plant, working in retail), but out of those that could be done remotely, we expect that 48 per cent of employees will work remote at least some of the time once we reach a new post COVID-19 equilibrium.

These work structures will become more explicit in employment contracts for a variety of reasons:

Firstly, as companies adjust their real estate footprints, they will need to know how many people are actually in the office and how many are not – they need this information to ensure effective social distancing in the workplace.

Secondly, some employees will be more attracted to work at organisations that provide this flexibility. To that point, employees will want to know what their options are rather than just hoping that their manager offers the flexibility to them.

Thirdly, HR is currently creating new HR systems and processes and new technology investments to guide employees through their employment experience. These new resources will codify what has largely been an ad hoc approach to date.

HRreview: When the regulations around the lockdown are revised and people can return to the workplace, where will people legally stand if they do not feel comfortable about returning to their physical workplace?

Mr Kropp: This is highly unclear as of right now and will change depending on the law and new regulations. In some places, if someone simply feels uncomfortable about coming to work but isn’t sick, has health issues that put them at risk, or have family members that are at risk, their employer can legally fire them. However, very few organisations are willing to do this. Most organisations, when remote work is possible, are simply telling employees they can work from home as long as they would like if they feel uncomfortable coming into the workplace.

HRreview: Will employers need to invest more in equipment for continuous periods of home working?

Mr Kropp: Companies have been making significant investments in the “at-home” employee experience to help enable their employees to be productive in the current environment. For example:

  • 70 per cent of companies have allowed employees to take office equipment home with them
  • 58 per cent of companies have allowed employees to buy additional technology if they need it (e.g. headsets, new monitors)
  • 18 per cent of companies are paying for the home internet bills of their employees
  • 12 per cent of companies are paying the mobile/cell phone bills of their employees


HRreview: What advice would you give to your colleagues in HR about preparing for their workforce return?

Mr Kropp: There are two critical things:

First, while most companies are rightly focused on the safety of employees as the core of their return to workplace strategies, they are missing out on a critical component. They need to manage the perception of safety just as much as the actual level of safety; if employees don’t feel safe, they will not want to come back to the workplace even if it actually is. And that perception of safety is not just what happens when they walk through the front door of your workplace. The perception starts when they walk out of the front door of where they live.

Companies need to focus on how to improve safety and the perception of safety from when an employee leaves their home to get to the workplace and when they return home at the end of the day.

Second, the return to the workplace is not a one-way street. If there is a second wave, a second peak, a hotspot at a particular location, we could very well find ourselves in a situation where our employees have to exit the workplace again. Before companies have their employees come back to the workplace, they must have a prepared exit plan with associated triggers of what would cause them to exit the workplace and how they would exit the workplace if needed.

Darius is the editor of HRreview. He has previously worked as a finance reporter for the Daily Express. He studied his journalism masters at Press Association Training and graduated from the University of York with a degree in History.