As the dust settled following the rapid shift to remote working back in March 2020, it was clear that this unexpected move was going to drive some permanent changes across the sector.
However, while many employees have been working from home for some time now, and many are enjoying the benefits of this new way of working, employers should be mindful that it doesn’t mean everyone has successfully adapted to this new routine.
For some, home working means more time with family and a healthier work/life balance, but for others it has led to feelings of isolation and a blurring of work and home life. As a result of this shift, we have seen an increased focus on employee wellbeing and organisations considering the ways in which they can best support their employees through this challenging period.
In order to successfully support individuals, line managers may need to play a more proactive role than they did prior to the pandemic, so it’s vital that they are provided with the support and training they need to manage staff effectively. Regular one-on-one supervisions and team meetings should take place to check for pressure points and to keep people connected, and managers should aim to demonstrate behaviours which diminish any perceived need to be ‘available’ at all times.
Efficient and pro-active line management might also reduce the need for the deployment of employee monitoring tools, which have seen much debate over recent months. While overseeing the performance and productivity of remote workers might seem like a legitimate purpose for monitoring, and indeed the technology could even be used as an indicator of wellbeing, it could lead to a whole host of data protection and employment risks and should only be implemented if determined to be proportionate and justified.
To support individuals who are working flexibly - whether through reduced hours or working outside of the typical ‘9 to 5’ - it might be helpful to make those working hours clear so colleagues know when to expect a response or when not to make contact. In particular, attention should be given to new starters or junior team members who will likely need additional support from their managers and colleagues. As this cohort may be eager to impress, they could end up working longer hours to ensure they are available at the same time as everyone else. It will therefore be important to embed good working practices from an early stage which could, in the long term, help with employee retention.
It’s worth remembering at this point that not all employees will be working from home, with some choosing to move back to the office environment post lockdown, and others based in the community managing face-to face operations. It will be important to balance the needs of each of these groups to avoid a split in the working culture, and ensure the differing needs of each are met in terms of both working arrangements and wellbeing concerns.
Many organisations will be embracing flexible working longer term as we move beyond the pandemic, so employers should be sure to have the necessary policies, guidance and risk assessments in place to address potential issues. While Employment Tribunals have been quite lenient with organisations over the last few months in the understanding that everyone has had to adapt to new ways of working, this leniency is unlikely to last indefinitely so organisations should be sure to have their house in order.
We may see some organisations encouraging a full move back to office-based working, but this could in turn prompt a significant rise in flexible working requests which might be difficult to refuse. This may be a particular issue where flexible working was previously refused on the basis that the job cannot be done remotely, which the current situation has proved otherwise. What is certainly clear is that attitudes are changing, and organisations would do well to see this as an opportunity to transform the way in which they deliver services and empower employees.
This article first appeared in Housing Quality Network.