In a previous blog, 'Ditching the daily commute - is it really a boost for mental health?' we looked at how the pandemic has caused a cultural shift to home working. We asked the question: How can employers support their workers, not only to maintain productivity but to maintain mental wellbeing?
In a survey of 50 large companies, representing 1.1 million workers, the BBC Business article 'No full-time return to the office for over a million' reports that 86% of the companies questioned said they would be introducing hybrid working when government guidance hopefully gives the go-ahead for a lifting of all social distancing restrictions next month. Companies covering retail, hospitality, finance, banking, media and outsourcing said they would be encouraging their workers to work from home 2 to 3 days a week. The article suggests that the majority of companies surveyed will give individuals the choice of whether they return to the office or continue to work from home.
Hybrid working may turn out to be the work model for many - in this blog we look at the steps you need to take to make that formally happen.
We also look at:
- What if your organisation cannot support hybrid working into the future and needs to encourage a return to the office environment?
- What practical steps can employers take to encourage healthy dialogue about returning to the pre-pandemic place of work?
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working is defined as a working arrangement where staff conduct their duties both in the workplace and remotely, such as from home. Whilst working remotely, employees maintain the same contractual obligations, such as core working hours and is designed to offer the flexibility of homeworking whilst also maintaining the benefits associated with on-site working.
There are two main categories of hybrid working:
Regular hybrid working: this is an agreement between the Company and the employee for a permanent combination of homeworking and attendance at a Company workplace, on a regular and on-going basis.
Occasional/ad hoc hybrid working: this arises in relation to specific pieces of work or for specific periods. It does not follow a regular pattern and is subject to the prior approval of a line manager.
I want my company to adopt a hybrid policy of working - what do I do now?
You've reflected on how your company has coped over the last year. A hybrid working approach is a concept the business can embrace - but what happens now?
What steps do you need to take to adopt a new way of working?
In general terms, you will need to introduce a Hybrid Policy and also formally consult with your employees. This process of consultation will need to be documented with an Agreement - recording what has been agreed between you and your workforce. Once this stage has been completed the Employee Handbook will need to revisited, to include the new updates.
The homeworking agreement drawn up during the application process, and bespoke to the employee’s circumstances, sets out the terms of the arrangement for the employee to work from home.
Here are some of the considerations (this is by no means an exhaustive list) you should be thinking about when developing a Hybrid Policy:
- The Company reserve the right to terminate the homeworking arrangement at any time for any reason on reasonable notice.
- Employees are required to be available during the core hours specified in their homeworking agreement
- If any issue arises that causes an employee to no longer meet the eligibility criteria at the outset of this policy, the Company will review the homeworking arrangement and may terminate it on reasonable notice.
- The homeworking arrangements will be subject to regular review.
- Employees working from home will be expected to attend meetings and other office-based events as and when required by their line manager
- Employees working from home are required to comply with Company policies, including holiday, performance targets, sickness, absence etc.
Instigate a trial period and be prepared to make changes to the policy to amend existing stipulations and include others. The end goal is obviously to ensure homeworking operates smoothly.
Here at Q&A we can offer HR Support. We have the experience and expertise to guide you through the policy making process and we can write the Hybrid Policy and associated agreements specifically for your workforce and your business.
Not every company can offer hybrid working on a permanent basis
After due consideration you've decided your organisation does not fit the hybrid model and the operation can't operate effectively using a remote workforce.
Your first step is straightforward - be sure to clearly outline to your workforce why not. Your workers may feel that they have successfully made the transition from the office to home and may disagree with your conclusions. At best, they will feel disgruntled and at worst, ignored and left to fall by the wayside - to the point that they look for an alternative position at a company which will offer more flexibility. Staff turnover then becomes an additional headache to manage.
As employers, appreciate that individuals have experienced a degree of autonomy whilst working from home - more so than before the pandemic and the transition back to the traditional office environment will be potentially stressful and potentially a source of conflict.
There are other flexible working alternatives to investigate
If you've established that you cannot offer hybrid working to your employees are there other flexible measures that can be offered?
Let's look at a few alternatives:
- Extend the working day (by which we mean offer staggered start and finish times). Those with childcare issues may appreciate the extra time to get the children to nursery or school and are happy to work later into the evening. Young, free and singles may prefer to crack on with the working day and have more downtime later in the day.
- Offer flexi-time - can you offer shorter days by agreeing longer working days at a later date?
- Annual leave flexibility - can you offer a buy-back scheme so employees 'buy' annual leave?
- Part-time and job sharing roles - could these opportunities be developed?
The main theme for all these points is to stimulate open dialogue with your staff. Workers will appreciate the company taking time to assess their individual circumstances.
And, of course, consider that there will be an impact on your HR department's short term workload since any changes to terms and conditions of employment will need to be agreed and changed.
Far better than the resultant recruitment drive and associated allocation of resources required to replace unhappy employees.
Does your workspace and work practices mitigate Covid risks?
We've established that your company needs to get the team back into the workplace.
What practical tips can we offer you to help with the 'return to work'?
First and foremost, lockdown restrictions are being lifted gradually so in theory that should give us all a bit of breathing space in which to plan...
Sit back, and assess your office environment:
- Do workspaces make allowances for social distancing? There's much debate in the press with suggestions that the 1m+ rule could be relaxed but for the immediate future, build social distancing into your office layout. Look at the flow of traffic moving around the workspaces and assess whether the positioning of desks, screens and partitions can be modified.
- Ensure you and your team are familiar with the current protocols and safety measures. Are you compliant with the current government guidance regarding Covid measures?
- Stagger the return to work - identify potential days in the week when particular teams or departments can come into the office - this could help control the number of people in the workplace at any one time.
- Maintain a flow of dialogue - set up a suggestion box (anonymity would ensure more open feedback) or create 'team huddles' to encourage a sense of community and team spirit. Enable workers to freely express any concerns or anxieties they may have and seek 1-2-1 discussions to regularly check on people's mental wellbeing.
Employers' position on the COVID-19 Vaccination
Employees will understandably ask whether an employer can enforce COVID-19 immunisation as a requirement for returning to the workplace. At the start of this year, Pimlico Plumbers' Chairman, Charlie Mullins hit the headlines saying it was a "no brainer" that staff should get the COVID vaccine - his statement received a very mixed response.
Our next blog will cover this potentially divisive subject. There are a number of issues around implementing a COVID vaccination policy for employees returning to the workplace. Regardless of whether your business is going to introduce a hybrid working policy or not - can employers insist on COVID-19 vaccinations? How should such a policy be implemented?
As the vaccination programme ramps up, evidence, data and opinions are changing almost on a daily basis. We'll offer you practical advice and a balanced view.
Be innovative, flexible and keep talking
It goes without saying that some employees will welcome the return to the workplace having felt isolated and bereft of the social interaction with peers and work colleagues. Others may have adapted to the home working environment and have a sense of trepidation about a return to the office.
Not every organisation can adopt the hybrid working/remote office model on a permanent basis and those that can't will need to come up with some innovative and flexible ideas to still make the return to work attractive to its employees.
Whether you decide to offer hybrid working or not, in this blog, we've provided some practical advice to get you started.
By the middle of June some of us, if not all, could be chatting around the (socially distanced) water cooler once more. During a new period of adjustment, not all of us will adapt as well as others and employers will need to be open, supportive and responsive to those that struggle through the transition 'back to normal'.
How can Q&A People Matter help you?
Has this blog raised some questions for your organisation?
Do you want to implement a Hybrid Policy?
Do you need advice on managing the return to work process for your teams?
Get in touch with us for our expert advice.