Is hybrid working here to stay?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic only 5% of workers had a remote working contract in the UK with around 30% of people reporting that they had ever worked from home. This grew rapidly when the covid pandemic hit, with over…

Blog1st Jun 2022

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic only 5% of workers had a remote working contract in the UK with around 30% of people reporting that they had ever worked from home. This grew rapidly when the covid pandemic hit, with over 46% of people working from home for at least some of the time.

It’s fair to say that in April 2020, no-one knew how things were going to pan out and for a long time we all thought that the various lockdowns and guidance to work from home would be for a short period and on a temporary measure.

Part of the challenge is how long the pandemic has gone on for, what was thought to be a 2-3 month lockdown, has evolved into a 2 year shift in the way we think about viruses, travel and working.

The reality is that many businesses have had to evolve to be able to continue to function in the landscape of a pandemic, just to survive. This has meant changes in how and when employees work to ensure a business can continue to operate.

I cautiously use the words that we seem to be coming out of the pandemic now and are moving into a phase of ‘living with Covid’. None of us can be sure whether come this winter that this will change again and we may have more lockdowns as a result of steep increases in cases or a new variant.

The new normal

For now though, business and individuals are looking to how we operate in the new normal. For many, the pandemic showed them what alternatives there were to commuting to offices every day and how much improved their work life balance could be.

Over the last few months many businesses are encouraging (or telling) employees that they need to return to the workplace either regularly or full time. This is seeing an increasing pushback from employees who do not want to return to working from offices full time or on set days of the week.

Many argue that they have demonstrated over the last two years that they are as effective and as efficient working from home as they are in the office. Some will say they have been in fact, more effective with less distractions.

One of our clients, who recruit a large number of roles per year are seeing 80% of applicants citing being asked to return to the workplace full time as their reason for wanting to leave their current role. This should serve as a warning to employers who are facing the biggest war for talent of recent years.

It was announced a few weeks ago that there are currently 1.288 million vacancies and for the first time ever, more vacancies than people actively looking for work.

In this context, employers need to really evaluate the way their business operates and how their employees deliver the work they do. Putting a blanket rule on returning to an office full time, without good reason, is pushing existing and prospective employees to seek more flexible employers.

For now and the foreseeable future, flexibility is going to be a key deciding factor in what candidates use to make decisions about where they choose to apply or accept a role.

How to manage asking employees to return to the office

There are equally many reasons why having people working together in an office/work space is beneficial and can improve moral and effectiveness. But it is important to manage this carefully as you do risk employees seeking, in their eyes, a more flexible employer.

Collaboration and picking up on what’s going on in the business are one of the main reasons why it can be good to have people working together in one space. It can be far easier to turn round and have a quick chat with someone and things can sometimes be done quicker this way.

Being remote can also make people more detached from their manager, colleagues and business as a whole, which can lead to demotivation in people and potentially makes them more likely to leave.

I’m keen to counter the above with the fact that all these challenges can be overcome through effective people and team management and making sure you have the right tools to support remote or hybrid working. My entire team are remote but we work hard to collaborate, support and engage with each other and many of the team meet up together to collaborate on projects or issues.

So how do you navigate this change?

For me, the key point is good communication. You’re highly likely to push people away if you simply demand that they all return to the workplace. A good starting point is to have a discussion with your employees – give your viewpoints and help them understand your challenges as a business owner and why you want to return to the office or move to hybrid working.

Make it two-way, seek your team’s feedback on the proposals and ask them what they’re looking for along with their personal circumstances. People may have caring responsibilities or other demands of them at home, which during the pandemic, they were able to navigate more easily and may have found a way to make it work for them.

Consider the outputs of the team. Don’t ask people to make a wholesale return to the office just because one person is not performing. Regardless of whether an employee is remote or in the office, it is important to establish good performance management processes so you can deal with situations as they arise.

Consider flexible working for the long term. Remember that all employees have the legal right to make a flexible working request to change their work pattern and this includes a request to work in a hybrid or remote way. You will have to assess this request and respond formally with sound reasoning as to why you cannot accommodate the request.

By collaborating with your employees in the first instance you will significantly reduce the chances of conflict, people leaving and creating a downturn in productivity. If your employees are bought into you and your business, they are far more likely to deliver their best to you.

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