The government advice of ‘work from home if you can’ has affected businesses up and down the country. Whilst no-one could have envisaged that this scenario would continue for such a prolonged period of time, the initial ‘working from the kitchen table’ (or ironing board!) approach has evolved with many people now creating dedicated office spaces within their homes.
As we head towards the end of lockdown 3.0 and restrictions continue to ease, businesses are now looking at ways to reintroduce and re-invent office working.
Recently, there has been a flurry of big organisations announcing a variety of different approaches. Nationwide, for example, is implementing a ‘work anywhere’ plan, with staff able to work from offices, high street branches or home and ‘locate their day’ depending on what they need to achieve. A study undertaken by the BBC of the UK’s 50 biggest employers indicates that almost all of them are planning to embrace a hybrid approach to working, with staff working both in the office and at home.
This is likely to be welcomed by employees. A study of 5,000 UK working adults by the World Economic Forum earlier this year looked at attitudes towards home working. 52% of those surveyed were working from home and 31% were working on business premises. When asked how often they would like to work from home going forwards, 40% of respondents indicated that they would like to do this two or three days a week in future. The same percentage (40%) felt that their perception of working from home had substantially improved (an additional 36% felt that it had improved either slightly or substantially). With almost half of those surveyed (49%) reporting that productivity when working from home was about the same, there is clearly a movement and interest on behalf of employees to have time, both in the office and working from home.
Hybrid working in reality
With clear benefits for businesses and employees alike of a hybrid approach, how will this work in practice and what should businesses be considering as more people return to the office?
- Workplace planning. Moving from five days a week in the office to two to three could mean a reduced need for office space, however, this will be reliant on an even spread of office days to manage capacity. This is something which will need to be managed carefully to ensure space is used effectively and that employees are consulted on the pattern they would prefer to work.
- Suitability of home working spaces. Not everyone will have space which is suitable or productive for home working and some may be actively wanting to come back to the office full time.
- Some roles are less suitable for home working due to their function within the business or a need to be physically present to carry out the role. Others may benefit from having additional support in terms of mentoring or training.
- Communication. It is not always as easy to communicate with remote teams. Having hybrid teams where some will be in the office and others at home will require thought as to how meetings work (are there facilities for hybrid meetings for example?) and making sure that teams are able to collaborate effectively. It will be important for managers to be aware of this and ensure that those working remotely are still able to engage effectively.
How will employees be affected by a hybrid environment?
- Commuting. A TUC study from November 2019 showed the average UK commute was 59 minutes. Being able to reduce this on some days would leave more time for employees to spend with family and friends or on activities or exercising.
- Travelling. Whilst there is discussion about the number of remote meetings taking place and the phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue’, scheduling meetings online reduces travelling time and can make the day more productive.
- Flexibility. Allowing employees to choose the days they are in the office is likely to lead to goodwill if they are able to select days to work from home which allow them to support other responsibilities such as picking up their children.
- Balance. Consideration needs to be given to the ability to separate work and home, particularly if this is to be a long-term solution and good communication is crucial to ensure that all team members are included and involved.
Whilst we are extremely unlikely to see the ‘end of the office’, businesses are already re-evaluating their need for space as leases come up for renewal. Space to work is still needed, just potentially in a different way to before.
What should I do now?
- If you haven’t already, engage with your teams and gauge the appetite for hybrid working.
- Establish your business needs in terms of office-based support and what benefits could be gained from implementing a hybrid environment.
- Ensure that your workplace is COVID secure and everyone is aware of the precautions and procedures in place to support a return to the workplace, even if this is not full time.
- Tread carefully if individuals are wary about returning. Seek advice if you are unsure whether their refusal has a reasonable basis.
For more advice and support for your business as employees return to the office, please email Chris Aldridge firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01242 248226 or contacct another member of the BPE Employment team
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