If there was a positive for business from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that it has forced employers to look at how their workplaces operate and whether a shift to hybrid working and, if they do, what benefits that brings.
A gradual move towards flexible working had already begun, with some employers agreeing to allow working from home for part of the time or on certain days; the pandemic, however, not only demanded that people work from home if they could, but it also demonstrated how well the system copes when forced to change through dramatic circumstances.
Business owners realised that their teams could, overall, be trusted, and workers stepped up to the mark and did what they needed to do during lockdowns and distancing. Now commonplace, working from home had its benefits, although many found they were relieved to get back into the office for at least some of the time once they were able to, giving rise to the popularity of that best-of-both-worlds scenario – hybrid working.
While workers have found benefits ranging from improved wellbeing, efficiencies from not having to commute or travel to meetings and the flexibility to build working hours around family and home, it is not just about the employee.
Employers have found they can reduce their overheads through downsizing and better utilisation of space through hotdesking and the like, as well as improved productivity from a happy and healthy workforce. Retention rates are often better if employees have flexibility built into their daily routine.
Having said all that, it’s not something to be taken lightly and employers need to ensure the balance is right, that it works for them and that they are not allowing the fact that workers are not in the office full time to let monitoring and support measures slip.
ACS Staffing Solutions has some helpful advice for managing staff who work at home. It recommends that four key areas are clearly defined as part of the responsibilities of supporting and managing employees whether they are in the workplace or working remotely - managing performance, monitoring performance, training and development, and health, safety, and wellbeing.
For managing and monitoring performance remotely, it is vital to have clear objectives. For instance, an employer might agree to assess the quality of work done rather than the time spent at the desk.
Employees should be supported in motivating and organising themselves, getting a good work-life balance and managing their time effectively. This can improve performance and reduce stress and anxiety.
Working from home may require more or different training in areas like digital skills, team building, communication skills and managing staff remotely.
Make sure monitoring is not micromanaging and impacts the employee’s privacy – this can damage trust and cause stress. Monitoring may include looking at emails, recording phone calls or checking website usage. If these methods are used, they must follow human rights and data protection laws.
An agreement should be reached on communication and how and when that will happen. It is important to get the right balance and make the right tools – instant messaging, video meetings, emails etc – available and make sure people know how to use them. Too many meetings can cause stress and create inefficiencies, so make sure the meeting is needed and make sure everyone taking part knows the purpose of the meeting.
Keep open those lines of communication that would be a normal part of office life, such as asking people how they are feeling, checking if they have any concerns, or noticing if someone seems unhappy or distant.
Consider the extra costs to the employee working from home, such as higher energy bills and that they have the appropriate equipment, including a suitable desk and chair, with which to do their job. It is also important to consider data protection issues and information security.
Hybrid working looks set to be with us for some time, so employers need to consider carefully if it is right for them, and if it is, what they can offer employees and how they will manage a new way of working.
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