The global, government-initiated responses to Covid-19 have meant that many organisations have had to close their offices indefinitely, with many employees moving to homeworking.
This massive change brought to the forefront the need to adjust processes, to embrace digital communications, and, through a situation rarely dealt with prior to the pandemic – the need to support the health and wellbeing of employees at a distance. As the world moves towards a new sense of normality, we find ourselves questioning our current working patterns to see if there is ‘something better out there’.
Where pre-pandemic full-time office working may not have been ideal for all employees, and full-time home working may not have been ideal for all employers during the pandemic, a ‘hybrid’ arrangement of working from home for part of the week, and from the workplace for the rest of the week, is being well regarded as a far more practical option to operating in a world post-pandemic.
The ‘Hybrid Workplace’ promises less disruption (in terms of enforced ‘bubbles’ and absences due to isolation requirements), less risk (regarding virus spread), and may even provide an opportunity to save money on workplace costs – an added benefit for organisations who have struggled for the past year and need to make up lost financial ground.
In the first of a two-part blog series, this month’s blog will focus on three overriding areas of change that organisations need to consider when looking to adopt a hybrid pattern of working. The second part, due out in May, will go into the legal aspects of making these adjustments.
Note: Today we’re going to focus on organisations whose work is primarily carried out via an office setting. In part 2, we will cover other types of workplaces. If your organisation operates outside of the scope of any of the types of organisations covered, and you require further advice, please contact us.
Location-Dependent and Time-Specific Tasks
One of the first steps is to look at which organisational tasks are location-dependent and/or tied to specific hours. For example;
● Picking up and responding to customer phone calls is generally time-specific, but it is not necessarily location-dependent;
● Writing up documentation may not be location-dependent or time-specific, provided they are delivered by the day they are required.
Tasks like these can be assigned to the ‘remote working’ side of the hybrid arrangement, with considerations towards how processes, communications and employee wellbeing are monitored and managed.
Informal Learning and Training
In an office setting, a continual element of informal learning takes place, as employees with different skills, knowledge, experience and character traits work together, utilising one another’s strengths. In working apart, this valuable aspect can be lost. For example:
● An office junior working from home may find themselves having to make decisions based on knowledge they do not have, whereas in the office setting, they may have observed other colleagues with more experience, or called on a nearby colleague for guidance;
● An employee may have taken visual cues from a colleague’s reaction to their approach to work (i.e. a colleague may clearly bristle at being micro-managed, or conversely, present joyful body language in response to a job well done). In working from home, there may be a lack of visual cues that some employees relied upon to guide them through their daily working life.
A hybrid organisation can ensure that informal learning and training continues, away from the traditional office setting, by:
● Ensuring all staff know who to turn to for support (i.e. provide a contact list);
● Arranging online networking opportunities for all employees, new and old, to get to know each other and develop working relationships;
● Creating buddy systems where experienced employees support and develop new starters, and make themselves available to be called on for guidance, and;
● Providing online training workshops to cover topics that would have traditionally been taught in-house.
Digital communication tools that many organisations refused to adopt before the pandemic, suddenly became an everyday essential when we were instructed to ‘stay at home’. These tools have proven their worth and have shown us how we can continue to benefit from them post-pandemic.
In moving to a hybrid organisation, employers should consider the following:
● Tasking managers with communicating objectives clearly to employees, and providing constructive feedback where needed;
● Discussing with IT professionals as to project management software, digital communication tools and apps that employees can use to ensure objectives are met;
● Training managers in the use of such tools, and in passing on that training to employees remotely;
● Offering training in how to conduct online meetings (some of the engagement encouraged and etiquette applied to in-person meetings can be lost when everyone is in a small window on a screen);
● Ensuring that there is a well-publicised open channel of communication between managers and employees, so that coordination of tasks is kept as seamless as possible, and through which any issues or matters of conflict can be confidentially raised and addressed, and;
● Ensuring that in-person meetings still have a regular place. Although we have learned how easy it is to fire up a Zoom meeting at a moment’s notice, humans are still social beings, and in-person gatherings remain necessary for forming connections, a sense of belonging, and building trust.
The employer is responsible for the health and safety of its employees, including when they are working from home. However, working from home via a hybrid arrangement means that more is needed than a simple walk-around the office, keeping a close eye on proceedings.
At a basic level, employers should ensure home working employees have the equipment they need and that risk assessments of their home workstations are carried out. Beyond this:
● Ask employees about their specific needs;
● Consider whether there are employees with extenuating circumstances – are there any working from home while simultaneously caring for young children? Are there any with school-aged children who may have been impacted by school closures, or subject to the possibility of bubble isolation periods? Are there any employees with caring responsibilities? Are there any employees living with individuals who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable? Are there any living in an environment that might be unsuitable for work (i.e. noisy, crowded, poor Internet connection, etc);
● Conduct regular conversations about wellbeing and mental health. Some may not feel comfortable or willing to engage but they will be left in no doubt that they are working in a supportive environment should the need arise;
● Provide contact details for external support agencies such as: Mind, Young Minds, The Samaritans, Money Advice Service, Citizen Advice and NHS Live Well, and;
● Maintain discussions on the importance of time management, creating healthy routines, work/life balance, setting boundaries and avoiding burnout. This is particularly important now that many home working employees are not limited solely to their building’s opening hours.
There may have been individuals enjoying flexible working arrangements in your organisation already, or there may have been requests for it. As life moves closer to ‘normal’, this could be a good time to explore your current flexible working arrangements to see if adjustments and accommodations can be made, based on what is required by employees and what has been proven possible/impossible during lockdowns (there is legislation relating to employees requesting a change to their working arrangements – more on this in part 2 of this blog series).
Moving toward a hybrid operation may involve a good deal of flexibility, creativity, communication and adjustment, but it does offer opportunities to operate in a beneficial way, leaving us less vulnerable to any future global situations akin to the one from which we are gradually emerging.
Don’t forget to stay tuned for part 2 – Our May blog post on the legal aspects of making the ‘hybrid’ move.
If you have any further questions in the meantime or require advice, please do contact us.