This month, employment lawyer and expert Verity Slater of Stephens Scown talks to us about the hybrid working environment. Read on and take the journey towards making hybrid working a positive working model for your business and employees.


 

At Stephens Scown, my role is as an employment lawyer, helping businesses large and small across the South West get their people strategies and actions right.

I also sit on our board, helping manage our 320 people. The last 18 months for me (like lots of other business owners) has been an exercise in managing change, keeping people happy and productive, keeping the business afloat and looking forward to what might be coming…

How many times has that altered and shifted as this pandemic has developed?!

At present, I am spending a large amount of my time advising businesses on moving to hybrid working practices and implementing this for our own 3 offices. Hybrid working is where your staff do a mixture of office and home working.

Following the pandemic, a wide range of research suggests the majority of workers want to continue working from home at least some of the time. ACAS’ recent survey confirmed around half of employers are anticipating an increase in employee requests for flexible working from home or remotely, for all or part of the time.

If you can get this right, you are likely to have happy staff, who are more productive, save some office space, reduce your absence rates and have higher levels of retention and motivation. Getting it wrong can result in distrust, feelings of unfairness or undue restriction and loss of good staff.

So from my experience, what are the key factors you need to consider when moving to this model?

The key factors to success from hybrid working

Look at what your business needs are

You need to consider with an open mind what tasks need to be done in an office or on site versus what tasks can be done just as well at home. Consider your culture and how the home working has been through the various lockdowns.

How have you managed supervision, wellbeing, culture and meeting the business needs? Do you know what your customers’ wants and needs are? A survey can be a helpful starting point.

Consider how the day-to-day will look

Consider the following:

  • Core times for employees to work together;
  • How often teams should meet in person – think about loneliness;
  • How teams could communicate (if not already mastered);
  • Incentives for bringing staff back into the office; and
  • What tech you will need to get or keep utilising more in this model.

Speak with and listen to your employees at an early stage

It is important to balance the needs of your business/customers and your employees. Employers that apply an unnecessarily rigid approach will put themselves at a disadvantage in terms of recruitment and retention of talent; so do have an open and flexible mind to your hybrid working options.

Visualise your plans

Put together a vision on how this will work for you that all the staff and managers can get behind. This will help everyone get on board with and visualise how this will work. It also encourages engagement and ownership. Talk about the best of both worlds (home and office).

Create a team

Set up a team (if you can) to help with the various strands of the project.

Consider different types of flexible working

Consider how other types of flexible working might help staff (i.e. different working patterns). Check what flexible working policies you have in place: does this still work or do you need to update it? Do you still need a formal flexible working request process or will workers will be able to agree on shorter-term flexible working arrangements with their line manager?

Get input from your managers

Get your managers’ input on the vision and provide training and support so they can apply this in practice. It is unlikely that you will be able to write a ‘rule book’ or policy that covers everything; so a vision is helpful, as managers can then apply this when speaking to your staff and making decisions on who this working practice will be applied to.

An organisation that provides excellent training and support for managers on managing remote teams and embedding your vision is Smart Working Revolution.

Overcome concerns

Think about how you help overcome the concerns of those who are feeling unsafe: keep up the communication and reassurance to staff about COVID-19 safe measures.

Creative ways of doing this might be by filming a walk around of the workspaces so that people can see what has changed, or preparing a welcome back pack. See if you can get alongside those people and really understand their concerns and consider what you can do to help meet them.

Make sure you have done your COVID risk assessments, workstation risk assessments and, where you can, put into place mental health and wellbeing initiatives like counselling services and mentoring.

Plan carefully

Plan carefully for the practical matters, including health and safety, equipment and insurance and data security arrangements for working remotely / from home.

Create a pleasant working environment

Make the office space an attractive place to be: with collaborative spaces and opportunities for people to meet and share ideas and experiences. This helps re-build that office culture after such a long period of home working.

If you can run some fun informal events and provide treats that usually helps! Rather than rushing to redesign the space you have, this may need to evolve over time.

Make the most of days in the office

Maximising “in-office” days: preparation is key – planning ahead meetings, collaborative working, work that won’t necessarily take up huge blocks of time, limiting video calls.

Listen to your employees

Keep listening to your staff and managers and adapting your model as you go forward. You may well decide to implement hybrid working as a trial initially.

In any case, you should review the effectiveness of the arrangements after a few months, at an individual, team and business level. Doing regularly staff surveys as the trial beds in can really help work through any issues.

Maintain policies

Check whether any employer’s liability insurance policies need updating – should this be extended to cover employee’s homes?

Update your internal policies and procedures as needed, along with your standard contract template, to change their place of work to ‘hybrid’.

Don’t fall foul of any discrimination rules

As with any HR process you need to keep an eye on whether your actions could be falling foul of any discrimination rules – either directly or indirectly. For example, are any particular employees or categories of employees adversely impacted by what you are proposing?

This might be those with caring responsibilities or health issues that may amount to a disability. Take the time to speak to these persons and to understand their concerns and how you can help.

Consider if the actions you are taking are proportionate or whether there are any other ways to do this that may have less of an impact on the person or group. Consider also whether you need to discuss and update any additional reasonable adjustments for disabled workers whose working environments may be changing.

You will need to work through these aspects avoiding generalising or making assumptions of the impacts upon those persons.

Move your hybrid working environment forward

To get this right, it is worth taking the time to check through these steps, as this is a great opportunity to launch your business into an exciting new way of working, wowing your team and your customers/clients at the same time.

If you want to discuss my experiences or get any help from our experienced HR and Employment law team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Employment@stephens-scown.co.uk  07715 073468.