Over 50% of jobs in the UK can be done (at least in part) from home. Prior to the Covid pandemic working from home was not necessarily something that was part of everybody’s work schedule. The last year has drastically changed our view on working from home, but now that restrictions are lifting, employers need to make the difficult choice of returning to the office or staying at home?
A recent BBC survey of 50 major employers found that most will not force their staff to return to working full time in the office, they will instead be moving to ‘hybrid’ working e.g a mixture of both office and home working. There is evidence to suggest that this approach can work well for businesses and their employees, although with this shift comes management challenges.
In fact, there has rarely been a more challenging time for businesses; balancing our emergence into the ‘new normal’ with the needs of employees as we open up our workspaces again. Therefore, now seems to be the time to consider the key topic of returning to the office – or not?
THE TRICKY QUESTION
You most likely have a mix of employees who are clamouring to get back, and some who would be very happy to stay at home. When considering what’s best for your business, some good first steps are to:
- Look at what has worked well over the past year with employees at home, and what you need to carry forward back at the office. Evidence suggests that routine tasks can be done more efficiently at home, boosting short term productivity; whereas creativity and innovation– the drivers of long term productivity – happen best in a collaborative environment.
- Gather the thoughts and feedback of individual members of staff. Taking into account individual circumstances, from someone’s living conditions to their personality– crucial factors in how successful working from home can be for them. Failure to do this can lead to Isolation and poor mental health, a risk for hardcore home workers.
- Make an honest assessment of whether continuing home working will suit your business culture.. This will largely depend on whether you measure employee success based on the work they = produce (outputs), rather than the effort and hours they put in (inputs). The former method is the best way to motivate your staff and is much better suited to a home-working approach.
- Consider whether to have an individual choice or common policy. In most cases the ‘hybrid’ policy will be the result, with companies stating for example that a minimum of 2 or 3 days should be spent in the office with the rest working at home. This allows the possibility for those that struggle at home to spend more time in the office, whilst those wanting still less time in the office retain their existing right to make a further flexible working request.
- Consider how your workplace layout needs to change, if there is a variety of flexible working in the office, is it time to introduce hot desking and collaboration, rather than allocated desks?
EVERYONE OR NO ONE?
If you decide to return everyone to the office full time, communicate this clearly and explain your deciding factors – there will likely be many who will feel disappointed with the decision as they were hoping to continue with a mix of office and home working.
Similarly, if you decide to make home working a permanent feature, there is a lot to consider and put in place to make it successful, taking into account that for some employees this will present particular challenges.
If you are going hybrid, you must consider a mixture of issues.
We should not forget that some clients have had to furlough employees and close over the last year– some of these considerations will also apply as you re-open and bring staff back to work.
FOR EMPLOYEES RETURNING TO THE OFFICE, ALL OR PART OF THE TIME:
- It is more than likely that your employees are contracted to work from the business premises; and most will welcome a return to the office. Some of the key incentives being: seeing the team in person and being able to socialise – eliminating the need for Zoom, along with a more reliable internet connect and access to food and beverage facilities.
- Make sure to talk to your staff about your plans for returning and the implementation of Covid safe guidelines. Use your time wisely and plan for reconfiguring your office space to accommodate limits to staff numbers and social distancing, slowly reintroducing people back into the office.
- Consider giving priority to those who really want to come back – especially if working in their home environment has been difficult.
- There will be some who may be nervous about returning to the office, especially if they were classed as vulnerable or shielding. Make sure that you are approachable and let your staff know they can ask questions to discuss how you can accommodate their concerns through Covid safe measures or other flexible working arrangements.
- Plan for the reintegration of staff coming back from furlough. This will include managing the staff members who are reluctant to return, considering retraining and re-introduction where appropriate and recognising and balancing any conflict between employees who we furloughed and those who were kept on working.
FOR THOSE CONTINUING TO HOME-WORK, ALL OR PART OF THE TIME:
- Remember that changing to an increased proportion of time working from home or closing office facilities is not a contractual arrangement. You will need to be open to concerns and questions about changes to the work environment, making sure to communicate and consult with those affected in order to agree to the changes.
- Carry out a risk assessment in relation to home working environments and take steps to provide the information, facilities, guidance etc that your employees need to stay safe.
- Reflect your findings in policies in your handbook about working from home, which may well include risk assessing the home space, data security, changes to home insurance and the provision of company equipment.
- Consider how to manage remote workers – managing performance at a distance, staying in touch while maintaining a team atmosphere.
- Training – particularly for new employees, how will you deliver induction and skills development remotely?
- Balancing the fine line of home and work has been a struggle for some, creating additional stress. To reduce that stress, consider changes to working hours – have you considered letting employees work when they choose and encouraging flexible hours? Or do you want them to work during regular working hours and switch off at the end of the day?
- Hybrid working will fall over if everyone wants to work from home on Mondays and Fridays!
WEIGHING UP THE BUSINESS BENEFITS:
The past year has surprised all of us with what we can achieve through working from home and has ultimately changed our attitudes surrounding it. It has created many opportunities for your business to benefit from as a result of a better work/life balance; the ability to recruit from a wider talent pool without restrictive location parameters; working hours that help productivity and suit both the business and its employees – the best of both worlds when the team returns to the office together.
IN THE MEANTIME:
Most people should expect to keep working at home at least until an updated review of social distancing is published.
If someone’s job can’t be done from home, they can travel into the workplace, as millions have done throughout the pandemic.
However, it’s important to remember employees shouldn’t go to work if:
• They’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive
• They’re self-isolating because they have coronavirus symptoms
• They’re in quarantine after travelling abroad