Who would have thought five years ago that we would be discussing the demise of the traditional working day? However, here we are with 36% of employees reportedly working from home at least once in the last seven days.
With Covid still doing the rounds, rising fuel costs and potential strikes hitting commuters, this percentage is likely to increase with more staff working from home to avoid the increasing costs and the challenges of travelling to work.
There are, however, negative aspects to working at home which we are increasingly encountering with our clients seeking help to find a way forward. Most notably is the rising number of remote workers who are being signed off sick due to mental ill health. So how do you manage your teams effectively when the standard working day and working week looks like it has gone for good?
Looking back at 2019, the percentage of employees working from home was just 4.7%. This rose to 43.1% during the pandemic. The latest statistics suggest that working full-time in an office environment is unlikely to ever return. Some of the UK’s biggest employers, including BP, Nationwide and British Airways, have confirmed that they have no plans to require staff to return to work fulltime in an office for the foreseeable future.
It’s not just remote working that has been a game changer, though. More employers are offering unlimited holidays and compressed working hours as different ways to address mental ill health concerns. Goldman Sachs recently announced its senior staff would be able to take unlimited holidays, subject to a minimum number being taken, as a way to try to address that concern.
However, they have taken the view that staff should not be working remotely, as they recognise the negative impact of not being together in the workplace with less collaboration and learning opportunities being available. The concerns around mental ill health appear to apply across the board, and managers do need to be trained to know how to engage with their team in the office or at home to address those concerns.
Inherently most managers do engage better on a face-to-face basis, and remote or hybrid working brings its own set of challenges; including, motivation and supervision, knowledge sharing and team building.
TIME FOR A SUPERVISION RE-THINK?
Employers will need to rethink how they motivate their staff. The absence of supervision can lead to employees becoming easily distracted by family, deliveries or other factors found within the home. Critically it can also lead to the increased risk of costly mistakes.
Isolation from the team can also weaken communication channels. The all-important ‘corridor conversations’ and “cooler chats” don’t take place which is likely to lead to the team culture being adversely affected. More worrying we are seeing the creation of division and a two-tier workforce – with “homeworking shaming” taking place.
Managers essentially have to revisit the way they have operated to create a cohesive team where the days and hours being worked are significantly different from what it was like in the past. That’s not to say that we all worked ‘9 til 5’ in the past, and parttime workers did feel left out which is why the Part Time Workers Regulations were introduced in 1999.
However, no-one wants to end up in an Employment Tribunal with an employee feeling unfairly treated. Aside from the cost involved, there’s the loss of valued staff who are difficult to replace that you don’t want to be facing either.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
As an employer and specialists advising clients on employment law, at Loch Associates we recommend prevention is much better than the cure. Here are a few ideas to consider to help maintain a high level of employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.
1 Is remote working right for the worker in the first place? Many people think they work as effectively at home as they do at work but are they correct? It may be the case they are not suited to it in the long term and so there could be a problem in the making with their mental health. We have been carrying out remote working psychometric tests with staff who not only start working remotely but for those who have been working remotely. It’s an objective way to assess suitability but also enables managers to know where they may need to target their attention when working with the employee.
2 Have you got the right policies and procedures in place? Having the right policies and procedures in place will help managers manage more easily while protecting your business and employees. Ensuring staff are aware of expectations, and the disciplinary or performance steps that may be taken if these are not met, is important. It also could include the ability to work remotely being relinquished.
3 Consistent communication and authentic conversations – These are some of the most important steps you can take to protect your employee’s wellbeing. Weekly one-to-one checkins create a sense of accountability which will increase productivity, and it allows a set time for employees to discuss any issues they may have. It’s important to engage at a social level too which is more challenging remotely.
4 Is their home safe? Checking the home working environment is safe is not only a legal obligation but also essential to look after your staff’s wellbeing. If you have not carried out a health and safety assessment for remote working, then now is the time to do that. It’s important to consider not just the physical safety but also how isolated the person could feel, and ensure steps are taken to address that risk assessment too.
5 Knowing when to seek professional support – managing remote working and the challenges around mental ill health can feel daunting, and employment law is a minefield. It’s that you not only seek specialist support when you need it but that you encourage your managers to seek help too. Training your managers on mental health is essential but also on how to hold meetings and manage staff remotely remain critical.
Getting it right could mean that the death of the ‘9 til 5’ regime is a positive outcome. Research suggests that remote working actually encourages employee retention. With 47% of UK employees saying they would rather quit than return to office work, it’s something that employers need to keep in mind. Being flexible in how you approach working with employees removes push factors that would have forced employees to resign in the past, for example, when relocating. Similarly, remote working gives employers access to a broader talent pool when recruiting. With the continuing challenges in recruiting good staff it’s time to revisit how we approach the working day.
Pam Loch, Loch Associates Group – Employment & Business Law, HR Consultancy, Wellbeing and Mediation