The Covid-19 pandemic forced many organisations to trial home working for the first time. A variety of benefits have been found, and the conversation of adopting a hybrid way of working is a key topic in employment.
As we move out of the third lockdown, the questions around returning to the workplace have increased in importance. The potential social and collaborative benefits of being in the office are evident. However, in a world where employee trust is key, employers will need to act sensitively – taking into account individual circumstance and potential anxieties, to craft the right approach. Our May Supporters Network event had speakers from The University of Manchester, CBI and Allied Bakeries. This blog summarises the key points from the event and ends with a list of relevant resources and a full video recording.
What are the future expectations for working?
Following the pandemic, many more employers and employees alike have realised that the standard 9am-5pm office framework does not suit all. Lots of jobs that were previously office-based can be done more flexibly - and this can provide many benefits including the removal of the commute, more work-life balance, and a greater ability to fit work around day-to-day life.
As a result of these benefits, CBI’s research has found that 75% of businesses are expecting flexible working to become more common moving forward, and 47% are expecting most of their workforce to adapt to a hybrid model of working post-2021.
But what is hybrid working – and how can employers manage this transition? Some employees will want to work from home indefinitely moving forward, others will want a hybrid approach, and others still will want to return to the office as before. Managing these preferences, whilst ensuring positive overall business performance, is going to be a tricky path for employers to navigate.
Good Employment considerations
Returning to the workplace will be unique to every organisation – some may find it helpful to choose certain days for teams to come together, whereas for others more freedom in flexibility may be required. There is no one size fits all approach, and the decision should be guided from conversations with staff to determine what will work best.
Here are some Good Employment considerations that employers should factor into this decision.
Health and Wellbeing
- How do your Health and Wellbeing policies differ when some people are in the office, and some are at home? How can you ensure all staff members continue to feel supported in their physical and mental health – regardless of physical location when working.
- How can you ensure that good communication is maintained? This would mean maintaining regular communication with remote staff, and ensuring they can continue to collaborate with staff that choose to be in the office.
- How can you adapt good strategies from the pandemic, and bring them into the world of hybrid work?
- How will you manage the onboarding and training process as we move into a hybrid world? Will this be based on the preferences of the new employee, or for training and social purposes would this be in office?
- How can you ensure that junior colleagues continue to develop in their career and have shadowing opportunities, virtually or in the office?
- Will you change the flexibility of your approach for particular instances e.g. to welcome new staff members, remote employees could come to the office as a one-off?
People Management & Employee Engagement
- Managerial styles will have to change to manage a hybrid workforce – will additional training be offered? What kind of training will be needed for this process?
- How can you ensure that meetings are inclusive, considering a hybrid workforce? Will the employees in the office be at a natural advantage – how can you bridge this?
- How can managers recognise when people aren’t coping – with a hybrid workforce where remote workers may feel less comfortable to have these conversations?
- How can your organisation make its leaders more emotionally intelligent – and thus stronger to manage this process?
Operations and Practical Support
- How can you ensure everyone has the right equipment – to work in different places?
- What health and safety measures would your employees like to see in their return? What’s most important to them? E.g. would they prefer frequent cleaning and hand sanitiser stations, or instead more limited numbers, and physical spacing? Or both?
- How can you ensure everyone at home is prioritising their health e.g. ergonomic support?
- What does the future of work look like office-wise? There may be a need to introduce hotdesking, create more spaces for collaboration, and more meeting rooms, for a largely hybrid workforce.
Steps to manage a return to the workplace
To approach the return to the workplace, the most important aspect is recognising that employees will have different preferences and anxieties, and it’s important to keep people reassured during this process.
One way to do so could be to create a video showing the safety changes to the workplace, such as one-way systems, plastic screens and hand sanitiser stations. This can work to reassure staff that safety is at the forefront of decision-making, alongside allowing them to see that ultimately, the office is the same as ever. For staff that have been recruited during the transition to virtual work, this can be a way to introduce them to the workplace.
Not every staff member will want the same pattern – 2 days at the office and 3 days at home per week will not work for everyone, and ultimately reduces the flexibility of such decisions. Having conversations with employees is important, as is senior leaders leading by example and utilising this hybrid way of working themselves.
Continuing to take reasonable adjustments into account is similarly important. For example, to introduce widespread hotdesking in an organisation, it would be necessary to evaluate any potential requirements to factor in. Available hotdesks in quieter locations, in various places, and with different moveable equipment on offer if required, would ensure that your workplace remains inclusive to all needs.
Cary Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School, University of Manchester
Katie Miller, Senior Policy Advisor at CBI
Carl Hampson, General Manager at Allied Bakeries
- YouTube Recording: Returning to Work Webinar
- Supporters Network Webinar: Slide Deck
- Iresilience Questionaire: Robertson Cooper Ltd (Questionaire that offers personal resilience score)
- Wellbeing at Work: How to Design, Implement and Evaluate an Effective Strategy, Ian Hesketh and Cary Cooper
- CBI: Factsheet for Returning to Work Safely
- CBI: Coronavirus Hub and Support for Business
- Allied Bakeries: Covid-19 and Approach to Risk Management