Getting Back To Business Post Covid, Flexibly
With businesses slowly reopening and companies welcoming back staff after the effects of COVID-19, we expect that many employees will want to continue home working in some form. Being set up from home allows great flexibility for staff members and can also cut the costs for businesses if office buildings are eliminated.
But with childcare services and schools resuming along with pubs, restaurants and shops opening back up, will companies still offer home working to staff? We caught up with two HR professionals, Justine Brown, CEO and founder of Just Global HR and Angela Holland, senior HR lead from Pitney Bowes to find out their opinions on the workplace ‘new normal’.
“I believe every company should have a flexible working and a home working policy that determines the rules for employees to either work flexibly, work from home or both,” says Justine.
“Companies need to make the working practices work for them and the recent lockdown has instilled more trust in managers as to how flexible and home working can work which they did not trust before. Each employee should be treated individually and a discussion about their working practices agreed.”
Before the effects of Covid-19 this year, many companies would offer home working but with a limited degree of flexibility, Justine thinks the tide will turn on this. “There will still need to be an understanding if the employee is working from home, but I think that the new ‘norm’ might be to request a ‘work from office’ day rather than a ‘work from home’ days. I do think that employees still need to give advance notice of when they decide to work from home or the office.”
Office Or No Office?
With the prospect of some offices in the UK closing for good, Justine doesn’t agree that companies should rely entirely on remote workers. “You definitely need an office base,” she says. “It worked well throughout lockdown but how would new starters get inducted into the culture of an organisation if there is no option to ever meet the team? Companies may need a smaller base but somewhere is needed to meet the team regularly and bring together the company.”
Angela Holland from Pitney Bowes also believes that companies need to look at new ways of working that allow employees to continue to level of flexibility they’ve had during lockdown.
She says, “Not only is this great for employees, but with the pandemic and fear of future waves, working remotely can enable better business continuity. Some employees really do miss the office, particularly around the social interaction that it provided, but even if employees returned to their offices tomorrow, it simply wouldn’t and couldn’t be the same. We need to find new ways to connect and use the office spaces we have differently.”
And although schools seem to be returning with some degree of normality, Angela thinks that companies should keep parents in mind when asking employees to return.
“It would be unfair for parents to be disproportionately impacted as childcare settings and schools continue to support the health and safety of their students, teachers and school community. This could leave parents without childcare as their children are required to self-isolate, and parents will need to care for their dependents. If employers do not offer home working, I could see parents being adversely affected by this.”
The Eternal Balancing Act
Returning to the office might prove to be a real balancing act for employers as although many staff members will want to remain working from home at least some of the time and work more flexibly, others will prefer an office environment.
“I am very mindful of younger talent, and particularly, those who are starting their careers,” Angela says. “Many of these employees live at home and don’t have an ideal set up. They may miss out on important skills relating to face to face connection if we move to a wholesale remote way of working. We should be thinking about how we can better support the younger demographic and particularly apprentices. Employers need to consider how they can still build apprenticeships into their workforce planning to ensure that we continue to drive social mobility and build upon the work already done to make apprenticeships a credible career pathway.
Working from home can be very different for individuals based upon their own personal circumstances and commitments. Providing core hours of work for teams can be helpful, I have personally observed a shift of individuals wanting to work more defined hours of work so that clear boundaries are set between work and personal time. Giving employees autonomy to get the job done, whenever and wherever, rather than a focus on presenteeism. Personally, I feel that there should be room for spontaneity – providing that the diary allows, and commitments are met.”
The HR professionals both agree that companies need to make amendments for staff to work more flexibly or they risk losing their best talent. Although having a base to meet and interact with colleagues is important, home working has been firmly established and has been proven to work. There is no reason why employees should be forced back into the office full time. This should also be an opportunity for job seekers to have a chance at roles out with their hometown. Jobs where a daily commute would not be sustainable but a weekly ‘office day’ would be perfectly acceptable.
Companies should take the pandemic and resulting lockdown as a positive thing as, by offering homeworking, they can widen the pool of candidates for new roles and cut costs.