• James Fatherley

Is it time to change the way we work?

After over a year of working from home, many employees are, understandably, feeling apprehensive about returning to the office. Others have simply grown accustomed to the flexibility that accompanies remote working and are reluctant to give it up in favour of long commutes and less family time. So, is it time to rethink the way in which your employees work long term, and how you can best support them to navigate successfully the return to a new blueprint for working?

Should work become more flexible?

Not everyone has enjoyed working from home for the past year, but for those who have, many are feeling anxious about having to give up their newfound flexibility. The pandemic has proved to many businesses that might have previously felt reluctant to allow their staff to work remotely that a virtual workplace can be successful, prompting calls from many employees to maintain some element of remote working once the coronavirus restrictions are eased.

And it’s not just employees who are leading the calls; some notable companies have also gone on the record and stated that they’re going to push for a more flexible way of working post-lockdown. One employer who’s taken this stance is PwC, who are not only calling for a change in where we work, but also in when we work. The consultancy firm has won headlines by announcing that, once restrictions are eased, their employees will be able to dictate whether they work remotely or in-person, as well as the hours that they want to work.

However, not all businesses are on board with this new way of working. In February, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Soloman, dismissed the idea that the future of working will be virtual, berating it as an ‘aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible’. The stark contrast between the two companies clearly demonstrates that no one is really sure what the future will look like for UK employees in a post-COVID world.

Can you require your employees to work in the office?

Employers, and HR leaders supporting them, do have the right to dictate terms of working for staff and, should you wish to, you could make it a contractual obligation for employees to be physically present in the office every day. It is worth noting, however, that even when restrictions do cease entirely, there may still be guidance for clinically vulnerable people or pregnant women who are currently unable to have the vaccine, and this may leave some of your workforce still working virtually.

Additionally, it’s probably worth considering whether it’s a good idea to be completely rigid as to how staff work in a post COVID world. For the sake of morale and team working, it may be positive to encourage – or even require – employees to come physically to work a couple of days a week, but forcing reluctant workers to be present every day could be counterproductive.

If you completely reject the idea of a blended way of working, your employees might start to become resentful, which could hurt their engagement and productivity. Furthermore, even if you’re not offering flexibility of working hours and place or work, the chances are, someone else will be, and staff might start to look elsewhere for employment, which will cost you time and money as you have to recruit and train new team members.

By giving employees some agency to choose the way in which they work, you’ll probably end up with a grateful workforce who’re eager to work effectively within your new working structure, which will boost the bottom line of your business and reduce HR headaches. However you determine the future organisation of your business, it’s still worthwhile being understanding of the reasons why employees may not want to return to the workplace and put in place a steady plan to support their transition back to the work environment.

Creating structures to manage blended working effectively

If your area of business permits it, the likelihood is that most of your staff will opt for a blend between office and home working when we return to the workplace. To ensure that this happens successfully, it’s going to be up to business owners, managers and HR professionals to put in place the necessary structures.

This will include practicalities, such as:

· making sure that employees whose areas of business are heavily reliant upon each other overlap

· deciding how many days per week you’re going to need your staff to be in your place of work

· ensuring there are enough resources available (work stations, equipment etc) for the rota that you decide on.

Ultimately, with the right arrangements in place, as well as a collaborative approach between you and your staff and effective communication, you should be able to manage the return to work effectively to ensure an engaged, happy, productive workforce.

Feel free to engage with the team here at Digital Hr Northeast to explore how we can help you navigate the route back to the office.

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