Written by Jodie Case | 28th May 2021

covid-19 effects on businessWhen we asked businesses back in September 2020 how Covid had changed the way they worked there was a lot of talk about the benefits of homeworking. Although there was a range of views, there was a lot of enthusiasm for continued homeworking and some even thought “office life would become a thing of the past for them.”

After a long 15 months of lockdowns, it’s clear there has been a shift. Attitudes expressed in a snapshot survey taken at the end of a warm summer in 2020 have changed after a long, gloomy start to this year, which made many of us realise we are missing some of the collaborative and social elements that can be found in the workplace. Seeing each other in person, working together in a room, office chats, birthday lunches…. these are things lots of people are keen to get back to.

On the other hand, the benefits some saw in remote working – more flexible hours, less commuting, a better work-life balance – are among those that employees are keen to retain.

So, it increasingly appears the answer is hybrid – a blend of working in the office and at home. As we have previously noted, a survey for the UK’s biggest 50 employers found 47 of them anticipated adopting a hybrid model in the long term, and that reflects what businesses are telling the Reality HR team.

We decided to go back to our Rebalance survey and speak again to some of the people who took part to find out if their opinions had changed.

Bringing people back together

As we talk to clients, we are noticing that they want to bring their people back together, more than they did eight months ago when they were getting used to working from home.

They tell us that people are really missing the social aspects of work, as well as being able to share ideas and learn from each other, face-to-face.

Last time we spoke to Angie Menary, Chief Executive at Thame and District Housing Association, she said she was seeing the benefits of her teams working from home. This time round she’s more cautious and definitely in favour of a blend:

“While working from home is working well for most of us, the lack of those interactions that arise in the course of a day in the office is now more acute,” she says. “So much of my own job is involvement with people and it is getting harder to manage that at a distance. I don’t just mean colleagues, but also interactions with our residents.

“We continue to work from home (those of us in historically office-based roles) with a day a week each in the office. Increasingly I am coming to the view that we, or at least I, must increase the number of days in the office each week.”

Health and Safety

Going hybrid isn’t just a case of saying “we’ll all go back three days a week”. Hybrid working has its own challenges, especially while social distancing is still required and space is an issue.

Angie Menary says: “There are challenges given the layout of our offices but having two people in at a time can be done if we are careful.  We already have safety measures in place and are reviewing arrangements to see whether more can be done.”

For the foreseeable future, premises need to be Covid-secure and it is the responsibility of employers to make sure they are safe. This may mean making changes to working spaces and shift patterns to support social distancing. Make sure there are clear protocols for elements like working patterns, hot-desking and cleaning down, one-way systems, marked entrances and exits, and communal areas.

One business we work with is proposing a minimum of two days in the office – everyone has to be in on the same two days and they can choose how they work for the other three. This will work for those whose office space can support social distancing, but not everyone. Some employers may need to ask employees to split shifts.

Hybrid working means more autonomy

At Reality HR we have noticed a shift in attitude and approach to people management. A lot of our clients are asking their employees for their input and allowing them to make their own decisions – listening to their views and engaging with them. Employers are appreciating that they now need to be accommodating for their staff.

Even those businesses that have seen huge benefits from homeworking are telling us that hybrid is the way to go.

Eight months ago, Stephen Brauner, Head of Business at Syntech Recruitment, told us that as a result of homeworking he’d seen a “happier workforce with a better work-life balance.”

Now his team are working on a hybrid model, a change which he notes has “created an even deeper sense of autonomy within the business”.

He tells us : “It has absolutely helped the culture of the business. I am seeing my team evolve into more well-rounded consultants due to the fact that we have adopted this mix of home and office working.”

Hybrid working grants more autonomy to employees to fit work around the rest of their lives, rather than structuring other parts of a weekday around hours in an office, which then has a positive impact on engagement and wellbeing. Ideally, hybrid working is the best of both worlds, giving people the structure and social aspect of office working and independence and flexibility of homeworking.

Challenges of flexibility

It’s important to remember that there are challenges when it comes to hybrid working. In our survey, we reported that 38% of respondents experienced a rise in flexible working requests as a result of Covid. We anticipated this would increase and now more businesses are choosing to incorporate flexible working.

Angie Menary told us: “Going forward I think we will work on a flexible and blended basis with people able to choose whether to work from home or come into the office, subject to our covid-safe requirements.”

On the flipside, there are companies who want to offer flexibility but are concerned they may receive too many requests and not be able to accommodate everyone. For example, there’s a risk everyone will want a Friday off and treat it as a long weekend.

Last year Sam Gardiner, Manager of UK Operations at Voisin, said she had seen an increase in productivity with homeworking, but her team had found it challenging to integrate new employees and deal with flexible and home working requests.

Today she says: “Employees are looking for that flexibility in their roles now, so we have to adapt to this new way of working.

“As UK Operations Manager, it is my responsibility to manage this in the best way possible and also to address the needs of the business.  I have had several requests for flexible working options already and most people are asking for 2/3 days at home with a couple of days in the office.

“We spent a considerable amount on refurbishing the office back in 2019 and are lucky enough to have plenty of work areas so people are not working in close proximity to each other, Of course want staff to be able to make the most of this new working environment and to foster that valuable face to face interaction.”

If you find yourself overwhelmed with flexible working requests, the first thing you can do is consider the potential impact of granting them. If this is not possible then the next step is to adopt a fair system to decide which requests are granted and which are not. We explain this further in our blog on overcoming the challenges of hybrid working.

Talk to us about hybrid working

The Reality HR team have extensive experience of remote, hybrid and flexible working. It’s the model we use ourselves, and we have steered many clients through setting this up in a way that works for the benefit of their people and the productivity of their business.

If you are considering hybrid working, check out our 10 tips to get you started.

For more detailed advice on managing a hybrid workforce download our guide or consider our HR Toolkit. This toolkit offers vital information for employers whose people will be working on a hybrid model temporarily or permanently and includes 1 hour of support with a consultant.

If your business needs support in adopting new ways of working, please get in touch at [email protected].