Earlier this month the UK Government Advice to work from home was lifted. I know of employers who quickly asked for staff to return to the office, and others who are still undecided on the best route forward.

Before we came into the Covid 19 pandemic, less than 5% of the UK workforce worked from home and 65% of employers did not even offer this as an option, so what lessons have we learnt from the pandemic, and will flexibility become the norm?

We surveyed all of the MAP team and the outcomes were enlightening as they were pivotal to us making our new policy.

  • Nobody voted to work exclusively either from home or the office
  • 60% of the team combined answered their preference for working from home would be either sometimes, half the time or mostly
  • Half the team answered neutral or disagreed that they are less productive when working from home
  • Half the team answered neutral or agreed that they will struggle to develop their skills and knowledge without face-to-face contact
  • 71% answered neutral or didn’t feel that their career would be boosted by working from home
  • 94% answered neutral or agreed that they can provide more effective support to colleagues working from the office.

So the new MAP policy is based on 60% remote working and 40% office time.

 

What is hybrid working?

Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. This has been around for a long time, in fact my first job back in 1985 had “flexitime” which was in effect simply self-managed adjusted hours of work, but over the years it has become so much more, particularly as we see more considerations made by employers for returning mothers for example and the general paternity legislation changes.

With hybrid working, a flexible arrangement is made based upon where the work is to be performed either in and out of the office, subject to the employer and/or employees’ preference.

We wrote recently about research that suggested 57% of the workforce would prefer this approach, and therefore employers are likely to need to decide on the options they will provide.

 

The benefits

There are numerous benefits to hybrid working. As accountants we would obviously focus on the cost saving opportunities that less office space can provide, saving on rent, utilities, and general operating costs. It can also save cost in terms of time, as less time is spent travelling to different locations, be that multiple office locations or client locations.

There are also significant advantages for the work/life balance of employees, which we have seen evidence of higher levels of motivation and job satisfaction, whilst at the same time reducing absence rates.

Perhaps less obvious, it can also increase inclusion and diversity rates in the business by making work opportunities more accessible, by removing location barriers, be that geographical location or type of premises.

Hands up those of us who had never heard of Zoom before Covid, let alone use it. We have also seen the upskilling of IT skills as employees learn to be more independent with their technology and are exposed to more diverse working tools and software.

Such working tools and software have often been implemented to support greater collaboration and a trend emerging from many businesses is that time spent in the office is no longer used for day-to-day tasks, but instead are opportunities to come together and work in a more creative way. Time spent together has become more precious.


The disadvantages 

Whilst cost savings will be seen in terms of facilities, it is likely that initial technological investments would need to be made to make hybrid working work.

When the first lockdown was ordered, employers had to act fast in providing employees with the necessary IT equipment, which may not always have been the best solution or fit for purpose. Employers looking to adopt a permanent hybrid model will need to assess employees’ home working equipment and spaces to ensure they are sufficient to meet their needs and do not put their health and safety at risk. A responsibility and liability many directors have not fully recognised, or considered, through the pandemic.

A further disadvantage of hybrid working, if it is to be more permanent, is the additional organisation it will need. Managers will have to manage in a new way and may need training in this new style and will, for example, need to become adept at organising calendars and project plans to ensure those who need to be in the office on particular days are, so as to not impact project delivery.

There are also legal implications of these changes to be considered, as terms and conditions must state where the employee will be based. This may involve getting employee agreement to change and potentially new contracts will need to be issued. There may also be issues for insurance that the employee needs to consider, and work will have to be undertaken to ensure the security of work-related information, specifically client data, to prevent it from being accessed by unauthorised users as more remote, and potentially more open, systems are utilised.


What you as the employer must consider when introducing a hybrid model of working?

The first consideration is full and open consultation with employees. The views of all employees should be sought on how the whole organisation will define hybrid working. Decisions made on the balance between home and office time, and special consideration given to those who may be particularly vulnerable and how this many affect them. We know that we are living in a continual potential threat from Covid, but we must also look out for those whom their physical or mental health may be impacted by working from home, such as those with mental health conditions or who are at risk of domestic violence.

Communication is essential to effective hybrid working. Organisations should therefore ensure they have plans in place to manage this, including opportunities for informal communication between employees, to foster better working relationships and engagement. Teams may choose to find their own means of communication that works best for them, but again Data Security has to be part of this.

As is the best practice in all matters HR related, a new flexible working/hybrid working policy will be needed. This should set out the organisation’s definition of hybrid working, identify which roles are best suited to hybrid working and explain the process for requesting it. Other policies such as expenses and homeworking and holidays may also need to be reviewed and updated at the same time.


Future changes

MAP like many other employers are now implementing our new policy on hybrid working, using the lessons learned from the pandemic and the staff survey to shape the future model. This is also something on the Government’s legislative agenda. Consultation into the effectiveness of current flexible working regulations closed in December 2021. The government response and proposed changes to the regulations are expected later this year.

The outcome of this is likely to be a move towards flexible working becoming the norm for all employees and the ability to request it widened and simplified, as we mentioned earlier in changes now readily accepted in paternity etc that have been introduced over recent years.

This view has also been echoed in further research conducted by Vodafone that found more than a third (37%) of people and more than half (55%) of 18- to 34-year-olds would be more likely to apply for a job if they knew the employer had good parental leave policies and that 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds, have decided not to apply for a job because they thought the employer’s parental leave policies were inadequate.


Conclusion

Most of our clients have experienced the advice to work from home changing a number of times during the pandemic and are well used to having staff come back to the office only to be sent home again. This experience can now be applied to make hybrid working work for your agency and your staff on a more permanent basis as your new company policy and not some Westminster dictate, enabling business owners and employees alike to enjoy the benefits of this model and the improved productivity and employee satisfaction it can bring.

Stuart Brown

Non Executive Director