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Count down to “Freedom Day”, are you ready?

Adrian Lewis, Director - Activ Absence

As the UK counts down to the delayed ‘Freedom Day’ on 19th July 2021 many employers are concerned about what the workplace will look like after Covid-19 restrictions lift, with many anticipating hybrid working will become the new norm.

A recent report from Envoy revealed that 70% of UK workers believe a hybrid model—involving the flexibility to choose when and where to work—would result in personal benefits, with 34% saying it would improve their mental health, and 41% stating it would benefit their work-life balance.

Other research from Instant Offices[i] found that nearly two-thirds (59%) of respondents wanted flexible hours to cope with the mental health impact of working remotely, and nearly half (45%) wanted a four-day week.

Firms such as Nationwide[ii] have said they will allow 13,000 office staff to choose where they work under a new flexibility scheme, whereas Goldman Sachs told its bankers to be ready to return to the office in June, when the government was meant to lift legal limits on social contact in England[iii].

There is a lot of uncertainty about what the workplace will look like once restrictions have ended and employees in theory could all return to the office. Hybrid working seems to be getting a lot of attention, especially since many employees recognise the benefits it can have.

But some firms are also considering a four-day week, flexible working and even working from home permanently. With the Government also proposing legal changes preventing employers forcing staff back to the office unless they can prove it is essential – there are likely to be challenges ahead for employers.

Employers need manage people’s different needs and expectations – some will be anxious about returning to the office, whereas others can’t wait, and ensure it’s business as usual no matter where an employee is working, with no dip in productivity.

Keeping on top of where staff are working, monitoring who is in the office and who is at home and getting teams working effectively together will be more challenging than if everyone was in the office.  It will also potentially add a whole layer of administration to the daily lives of HR as it may fall to them to monitor this.

Culturally there are risks too. There is a danger that a company will become split between those in the office and those at home and if it isn’t managed carefully, resentments between colleagues could creep in.

Companies will have to rethink how they communicate and bring teams together and how to maintain a sense of camaraderie, as well as other issues such as looking after employee health and wellbeing. Mental health is also a concern, with the pandemic exacerbating many issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.”

In June, there were calls on the UK government to give employees a legally binding ‘right to disconnect’, with some employees and trade union, Prospect calling for a ban on out-of-hours emails as the Covid-19 pandemic has already made work more stressful[iv].

Technology such as absence management technology gives employers a simple way to overcome many of these challenges. It gives complete visibility over the workforce, so managers know if employees are working at home, off sick or on holiday.

It can also support mental health – enabling managers to spot patterns in sickness behaviour and ensure back to work interviews are done, which offer a confidential and safe place for people to discuss any issues. The software records annual leave too so if workers fail to take their allocated holidays they can be encouraged to do so, which helps their wellbeing.

The software is cloud based so easily accessible and it can help employers facilitate hybrid or flexible working, a four-day week or even working at home permanently. As Freedom Day approaches, investing in this technology can ensure employers are prepared for what the new normal way of working may be post pandemic.

www.activabsence.co.uk

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