With the successful rollout of the COVID vaccine programme, lockdown is gradually being lifted. With many organisations returning to the workplace, how many will continue with homeworking?
During lockdown, the CIPD carried out a survey to find out how businesses coped with enforced and unplanned working from home. Better than expected, it turns out, leading to a significant long-term shift towards more home and hybrid working.
With many homeworking benefits, most frequently mentioned was increased wellbeing from avoiding the commute, having more family time, and saving money. Other benefits included more focused work time with fewer distractions; greater flexibility of hours; improved team communications through using IT tools; IT upskilling; and higher levels of staff motivation and engagement.
The survey discovered that 71% of employers said that productivity either increased or remained the same while homeworking.
Some challenges were noted, which varied depending on the organisation and the settings. Challenges included reduced mental wellbeing from being isolated; workspace factors like unsuitable home circumstances and outdated technology; lack of technology proficiency skills; and working longer hours.
Many challenges can be overcome by adopting a hybrid working approach, providing a good balance of face-to-face contact and focused homeworking.
Achieving the Benefits of Hybrid Working
Putting strategies in place to manage and support your employees, including management skills training, is necessary now if you haven’t already.
Homeworking post-pandemic should be a voluntary arrangement. For those that can work from home, you need to get the hygiene factors right – what home workspace and technology is available? Is any training required? How is the individual’s wellbeing? It’s also important to consider their domestic and family circumstances.
The CIPD recommend these seven strategies for effective hybrid working:
1. Develop the skills and culture needed for open conversations about wellbeing
Your managers will need to incorporate wellbeing into their regular one-to-one conversations about objectives, progress and workloads. During those conversations:
- Be alert to any signs of reduced wellbeing and ask how they’re feeling
- Talk about non-work issues like what people are doing outside of work
- Share about yourself to demonstrate open conversations and build trust
2. Encourage boundary-setting and routines to improve wellbeing and prevent overwork
Working from home can make the lines between home and work blur, which can lead to working longer hours or not taking breaks.
- Offer training in boundary-setting
- Encourage the use of routines for appropriate start and finish times, building in breaks throughout the day
- Routines are particularly helpful when teams adopt them collectively, helping to create more time for group communication
- Video calls can be draining, so encourage 5–10-minute breaks between calls
3. Ensure effective co-ordination of tasks and task-related communication
You may need to change the way that work tasks are coordinated. So, make lists of tasks to discuss before making calls. In the workplace, it’s easy to walk around and have quick, informal conversations. When working remotely this isn’t so easy, so:
- Set clear objectives and goals
- Encourage your teams not to be afraid to pick up the phone
- Set up more frequent and deliberate pre-arranged communications
- Use project software systems like Trello or Asana
4. Pay special attention to creativity, brainstorming and problem-solving tasks
Working remotely can make it harder to have creative brainstorming and problem-solving conversations where the energy in the room helps people to feed off one another.
- Identify which tasks are more effectively done face-to-face and arrange meetings in the workplace
- Explore technological solutions, like impromptu group chats in project software that can be continued in a group video call
5. Build in time, including face-to-face time, for team cohesion and organisational belonging
Engagement with the organisation and colleagues is better face to face. However, homeworking solutions include:
- Create a common purpose across the organisation. This purpose can be reiterated through frequent visual contact with colleagues to help the feeling of being in this together. Hold monthly webinars hosted by your directors and regular online Q&A sessions with different sectors of your organisation
- Build personal and team relationships online through fun events such as quizzes, charity fundraisers, online social games with food and drinks. Be sensitive about individual people’s needs – some may enjoy the engagement and others may prefer to wait for the face-to-face options
- Encourage face-to-face time. Now that more pubs and restaurants are open, building those human relationships will really help to strengthen relationships
6. Facilitate networking and inter-team relationships
When we all worked from home, communications within and between different teams changed initially. These solutions will help to build and strengthen those relationships again:
- Create opportunities for co-working with other teams. For instance, roster the overlapping of days in the workplace with other teams to help with communications and collaborative approaches
- Encourage inter-team relationships and networking at an organisational level. For instance, hold cross-company social events and mandate a minimum amount of time in the office
7. Organise a wider support network to compensate for the loss of informal learning
When working remotely, new starters don’t have shadowing opportunities to help them build relationships and establish themselves. Younger workers, graduates and apprentices found this particularly challenging. Promoted employees may also need more learning and training opportunities. Solutions include:
- Pinpoint where learning needs are more intense
- Encourage new people to share stories about how onboarding worked for them to help fellow homeworking new starters
- Rota colleagues’ time in the workplace together with the new starter
- Organise more structured development opportunities. That can include having a wider support network and more documentation instead of a single buddy
- Look into formal training that is adapted for online delivery
In conclusion, by training your line managers in core people management skills and focusing on supporting your employees’ wellbeing, and providing opportunities for collaboration and networking, your organisation will be well-equipped to benefit from hybrid working.
If you need any further advice on managing hybrid working, or if you have any other HR queries, do call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.