Written by Sharon McDermott, co-founder and managing director at Trenches Law

The word of the year for 2022 may have been a cocktail of gaslighting, goblin mode and permacrisis, but we think the best way to describe it would be ‘unpredictable’. From changing leadership to conflict and COVID, we all deserved a pat on the back for getting through it.

Despite turning over a new leaf as we headed into 2023 with optimism, it soon became apparent that the new year wasn’t going to be plain sailing either. Amongst many things, the UK found itself in the midst of an unprecedented cost of living crisis.

Perhaps one of the most notable changes in the world of work was the continuation of remote and flexible roles — with a landmark law passed in December, which grants employees the right to ask for such arrangements from day one.

This resulted in many employers re-evaluating their physical spaces. Indeed, at Trenches Law, we have since closed down one of our buildings to protect staff from spiralling commuter costs. But for others, the office is a safe haven – protecting them from taking video calls in dressing gowns, and helping them to keep energy bills down at home.

So how can we redress the balance and look after our staff in such a turbulent economic climate?

Nurturing the top talent

Rising inflation means many staff are seeking more competitive salaries — particularly in the telecoms sector. This understandably puts managers in a tricky position. At Trenches, we’ve introduced a 5% pay rise for all staff, but we also understand that employee welfare goes well beyond salary alone.

With this in mind, it’s about introducing supportive measures to nurture the workforce. This starts with offering flexibility – particularly around remote working. Some employees prefer to avoid the commute, while others may rely on the energy savings or the social interaction in the office. We need to encourage a culture of communication that supports both.

It’s also important to remember that this is not necessarily about 9-5 or 10-6. It’s about empathising with staff and accommodating their needs – for example, allowing time to pick children up from school and reduce childcare costs, or finish an hour early if they desire, and make up time another day.

Checking in with teams

A culture of communication also means ‘checking in’ on your teams. Whether this is a weekly virtual call or a one-on-one in the office, it’s essential that people feel acknowledged and valued. We’re proud to have introduced access to mental health first aiders – trained, impartial third parties in whom staff can confide, particularly if they feel like they cannot speak to their colleagues.

There are also the ‘little things’ that make a big difference. Keeping personnel motivated while watching costs can sound like a balancing act – but it doesn’t have to be. The smallest gestures can aid productivity and put a smile on the faces of those in your team.

For example, we sent all our staff a tea-themed advent calendar, helping them to keep warm throughout December. We also offer our employees the freedom to go to the gym during the day — not least because off-peak memberships are often cheaper and gym floors are less crowded. Plus,  exercise produces endorphins that help us keep on top of our mental health through tricky times.

Taking a long-term view

While we may be facing a cost-of-living crisis right now, it’s important to make long-term changes, not simply pay lip service. We’ve already seen the benefits of long-term remote working post-COVID. We’re going to keep our staff motivated with these gestures, and this starts from the moment they’re hired.

Trenches Law offers a fully-funded apprenticeship programme, providing accessible training to new starters. For existing staff members, we also have a paid-for learning and development programme, allowing teams to pursue a vocational qualification at no cost.

Again, as business leaders, we need to view this with a long-term lens. While there are associated costs with learning and development schemes, retention rates can improve by up to 50% with strong learning cultures. Remember that the average cost for hiring a new staff member starts from £3,000 – and that’s not accounting for training or other HR benefits. The longer we can hold onto top tier talent, the better our bottom lines.

Above all, have faith

We are all feeling the pinch right now and emotions will be running high. That’s why it’s so important to invest both money and time into your workforce – and your support is underpinned by confidence. Show your employees that you trust them to choose their own schedules or pursue new learning opportunities. They don’t need to be micro-managed.

We have all seen the headlines showcasing the consequences of poor staff practices recently. From mass firings to resignations and even strikes, the fate of our businesses lies in our people’s hands. We cannot underestimate the importance of looking after our teams.

So, what can you do as a manager? By offering a flexible and personal approach, you’ll help your teams feel included and valued, wherever they’re working. The cost-of-living crisis may be a temporary situation, but a company culture lasts a lifetime.

Trenches Law is a telecoms law specialist. Find out more.