Lockdown is easing in the UK, yet only this week we have seen spikes in new Covid-19 cases in Spain and across Europe. So much so that the UK Government have warned of further international travel restrictions if spikes continue. This adds to businesses’ woes, given that government last week put responsibility back on their shoulders to manage a return to work and employee wellbeing. It’s a highly complex time to be managing the needs of any workforce, especially given that people are expecting new ways of working to become permanent in the future, and a much more flexible approach to how they engage with their employer.
Offices for example are a tricky subject, with recent research showing two-thirds are unsure or reluctant to return. While health concerns are a real worry for some, could there be other factors in play that are contributing to why so many individuals in the UK feel reluctant to return to a work environment?
Serious health concerns will play a part (as many still must shield due to health conditions) but time away from the office has afforded many of us more time on either side of our 9 to 5 to get a bit more work done, or deal with bits of life admin otherwise reserved for the evenings or weekends. Exercise routines have replaced long commutes via public transport, and quick microwavable meals have been swapped out for more extravagant healthier menus. Businesses need to be proactive and understanding, when it comes to managing and planning for an increased expectation by employees for better workplace flexibility.
Think outside the …office
Not everyone wants to come into the office, and with months stuck at home in small flats, alongside busy flat mates or on their own, not everyone wants to stay at home either. Whether it is one day a week, five, or none at all, HRs need to begin the process of gaining a clearer picture of who exactly wants to work where, and for how long. Once clear, businesses’ can make the decision they feel best suits their organisation.
The initial solution is clear. Employees need to be asked their preferences. This information can be gathered easily through manager 121s, or even internal online surveys. To take this a step further and to ask the simple question of ‘why’ will provide HR teams with a wealth of data that they can act on and use to inform discussions with C-suite and plan accordingly for this year and those to follow.
Really getting to the bottom of understanding why people want to work where and encouraging them to do so will do a lot to improve wellbeing in your workforce. People will be happier, more productive, and feel trusted by the organisation they are working for.
A flexible future
Working from home will need to be supported with systems and software. Not only do businesses need to know where employees are working for obvious health and safety reasons, but also to ensure workforce wellbeing issues are being communicated and managed. At the moment many organisations rely solely on paper forms and spreadsheets to account for absence, and face to face meetings to discuss health and wellbeing.
With a flexible workforce the human element will be lost slightly. Knowing when people are sick will become harder if they are not sat next to you coughing and spluttering, so more will need to be done to cope with the physical distance. Simple systems that everyone can use and that everyone has oversight of will solve part of the issue. Enabling employees to notify others that they will be ‘WFH’, or that due to illness they won’t be in the office, to needing to schedule a virtual doctor’s appointment will reduce admin, save everyone time, and improve employee satisfaction.
The benefits of systems such as these are not limited to clocking in to work. They can manage the booking of holidays and registering a sick day. And during times such as these, employers should be encouraging and making processes far simpler. Burnout and illness are not conducive to better, happier, more productive staff.
Small changes to internal processes can have big impacts on the wider team. Previously businesses may have felt working from home as a rule wasn’t a feasible option, that it wouldn’t work, or it would result in drops of productivity. The recent pandemic has shown that this is not the case, that in fact it is very easy for people to start working from home and be productive at the same time. For this reason, people will expect flexible working as part of the company culture. The problem for businesses is not starting to work from home but being able to offer the same support structure that they can in an office environment. This is likely to take a bit longer, but the focus undoubtedly needs to be on this, and not resisting a flexible workforce future.