October 14 2021 0Comment

COVID-19 and Returning to the Workplace – A Focus on Hybrid Working

This post is part three of a series looking at the health and safety implications of returning to the workplace in England, Wales and Scotland (read the previous posts here and here). This week we will be looking at the HR considerations and focusing specifically on hybrid and flexible working.

This post is adapted from part three of Armour’s ‘Return to the Workplace’ webinar and from a presentation provided by Pam Watson of Greig Melville.

 

“Two-thirds (63%) of employers plan to introduce or enable more home & hybrid working over the next 6 – 12 months” – CIPD

 

It is still early days for hybrid working but there is a growing focus on this as employers and employees prepare for a phased return to the workplace.

 

Many employees are understandably wary at the prospect of a complete lifting of restrictions, especially if they’ve spent the last 18 months or more either working from home, on furlough or protected by Covid workplace measures.

 

It’s clear that unless the situation is handled properly, there is a potential storm brewing between teams uncomfortable to return to the old way of working and employers that are keen to get back to some sense of normality. There’s certainly a balance that needs to be struck – and that balance would seem to be a form of hybrid working.

 

Flexible Working

Hybrid working is only one form of flexibility – flexible working is so much more!

In addition to ‘location flexibility’ you should also be looking at what is commonly known as ‘time flexibility’ – covering areas like staggered hours, core hours, compressed hours, adjusted shift rotations, any 5 from 7 etc. for the future.

 

“Less than a third (30%) of employers are planning to try to increase the uptake of other forms of FW over the next 6-12 months” – CIPD

 

A greater focus on other types of flexible working is needed in the medium-term future and you should also be thinking about that too.

The government has now launched a consultation on changes to existing flexible working legislation which includes Flexible Working becoming the default option from day one.

This would not create a legal right to work from home but would put the burden on the employer to prove that there are good reasons not to do so. Employers may also be required to publish their flexible working policies in future.  About a third of employers already provide this and we actively encourage our clients to do this as good practice.

 

Where Are We Now?

Prior to the pandemic only 5% of employees worked from home.

During the pandemic 100 million people worked from home.

We are still subject to some restrictions, so we are in a gap at the moment.  We won’t know if hybrid working is effective for us until we’ve tried it – it is still a very new way of working and any good practice is yet to emerge.  It will take time for us to review the lessons from the pandemic, implement the new working practices associated with hybrid working and review how well they do work – or not.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

In planning for hybrid working one of the first things you should do is to carry out some form of listening exercise with your workforce in order to establish working preferences and learn the lessons from pandemic experiences.

Line managers are key to providing a supportive culture here so get them on board with what you are trying to achieve. There may well be technology, wellbeing issues etc. – this is the time to trial different ways of doing things and ask for feedback.  Nothing should be set in stone at this point.

Remember that this may present opportunities for wider flexible working procedures for hours etc. as well – it may not be just about location.  Consider individual circumstances – no-one should be at a detriment.

 

Hybrid Working – The 6 foundations

The foundations which underpin successful hybrid working are about culture and practicalities and will require a fair amount of line manager competence – this is very much a new way of managing & leading.

 

 

The 6 foundations are based on trust, which was in short supply before pandemic.  We have moved on from the ‘how will I know if they’re working?’ mentality and it’s fair to say that for the most part we arenot dealing with skiving issues!

We must focus on the fact that high trust = high performing.

We need to rethink how we assess performance – this should be based on outcomes, values, contribution, and results – not presence. We should be challenging the flexible working stigma – commitment is there from the majority of people!

We should be using technology to collaborate effectively e.g., Teams and Zoom, and establishing team rules for communication methods for different tasks.

Energy and creativity can be lost when working remotely.  Determine which tasks are most effective face to face – these should be scheduled into the physical workplace. Schedule time in the physical workplace also when support is most needed e.g., new people, new role, promotions.  Develop a rota to share time in the workplace for these tasks.

We should design and implement this with inclusion in mind, giving fairness of opportunity and not proximity bias.

We should be mindful of the wellbeing challenges of hybrid working –

  • Educate on balance, transition, good habits, and work to people’s own energies.
  • Encourage people to establish routines – take breaks between video calls; block out lunch breaks.
  • Take note of signs of overwork – for example, starting early, working late.
  • Look at how employees are using former commute time.
  • Equip managers to have regular wellbeing conversations.
  • Create opportunities for co-working, cross social events – think about how you maintain connections between home and the office – project groups etc.

 

Supporting Practicalities

You will need a plan for dealing with the initial transition period.

People may be taking on different roles or transferring to different teams.  They may be working entirely remotely, entirely office based or half and half.

  • How are you going to monitor and review that?
  • What equipment do you need to provide?
  • What expenses will you cover?
  • How equipped are your managers to deal with this? Do they need development & support to make this happen?
  • Do they have the management & leadership skills to ensure this works?
  • What are you going to do differently?
  • At every stage of the employee lifecycle from recruitment to retirement – what are the potential effects on e.g. induction, learning & development, appraising performance etc.?

 

Making It Stick

Be prepared to change, adapt and be flexible to changing conditions and feedback from employees.  Remember to measure as you go and adapt as required.

Recognise people will find more change difficult and for some people more so than others. Find champions – people who are passionate & interested in these areas.

Remember there are still learning needs around technology and a work/life balance.  It’s going to be a bit messy – there is no one single best way to do hybrid.

However, with the right vision, right culture, right leadership and right procedures and policies to support in place, you are giving it the best opportunity for success.

 

Why not download our free Armour Risk Consulting ‘Return to Work Checklist’ here – https://armour-risk.hubspotpagebuilder.com/checklist?

Do you need any help in writing or reviewing your COVID-19 risk assessment?  Please contact Armour Risk Consulting for a free consultation at enquiries@armour-risk.co.uk or on 0131 516 1767.