Hybrid Office-Home working: New Benefits, New Stresses?
As we plan for the future, trying to remove so many months of potential heartache and stresses from our home life and our business, we need to be proactive to ensure a brighter future.
This article sets the scene and poses some of the most common new scenarios that both staff and organisations could now face.
When things are enforced by law and government things are clearer. “We’ve all been told we have to do this, no choice”. For some it may be unfair, but what can we do?
Almost overnight it was evidenced that most businesses can operate quite effectively with a remote workforce.
As lockdown restrictions are removed things are rapidly changing and everyone needs to ensure we get this next important “choice” step right. Otherwise all the newly evidenced remote working benefits will be washed away because it’s all too difficult and creates animosity or even worse legal/HR issues.
It has been proved that a future where work-life-balance isn’t just a superficial buzz word for a few but a real reality for many – being allowed to work from home (#WFH) not always in the office/site.
But this new world is much more nuanced than it first looks. It’s no longer simply driven from a “business” perspective. These changes are now “individual” at so many levels.
Each person’s role, situation and motivation create an infinite combination of needs to get the most for and from each employee. That’s before you factor in that each of these elements constantly change over time, for each individual – WOW … this could be complex. It brings new meaning to that famous saying a Constant State – of flux!
Of course HR departments, mangers and owners have always had to deal with many of these factors but typically not across such a wide range of the workforce, all at once and factoring in current employee’s individual situations.
At first glance it may seem simple. Some roles can work from home, some cannot. For those that have to be office/site based, nothing changes (except for current social distancing rules).
For roles that can work from home the standout impact is the removal of the dreaded “commute”. A waist of life for so many. Traffic jams, delayed public transport, long walks or bike rides in the dark and rain. Less stress, more family and/or work time … for free. As well as potentially cost savings for the employee (and significant savings for the employer?).
Now it’s time for the reality. How do you define all is as a revised company policy?
Maybe the reality is to agree a constant evolution – decision, learning, revision. Ensuring the workforce is aware that this is the situation for a while. Of course in some businesses/sectors all roles could be home, office or hybrid based. But for many there will always be a necessity for a physical business premises, office / factory / warehouse. Both situations need to carefully considered and catered for.
So, what are the factors that now need to be blended to define a workable policy for a business, department, role, individual?
- Can the roll be effectively carried out away from the business site?
- For roles that have to be on site how do we ensure staff don’t feel disadvantaged (commute time, costs, even lunch costs)?
- How do you fairly monitor on-site and off-site staff performance and efficiency?
- How do you ensure you don’t miss out on creativity, improvements, problem solving because people are in a silo of one?
- How do you manage “working from home” days that may actually be a sick day if they had to come in the office?
- How do you ensure work rates and accuracy are consistent and constant?
- If there are less people on-site, do you need the same level of supervision?
- Is supervision now more complex as you have less people on-site but they are spread throughout a large site?
- How do you supervise a remote workforce and evidence you’ve covered legal safety/wellbeing obligations?
- Can the necessary technology be cost effectively deployed, operated and maintained long term?
- Who pays for the home working space, extra lighting, heating, broadband? All of which was previously (and potentially all still is) available on the business site.
- Different locations have different connectivity issues, broadband speed/reliability, mobile signal strength.
- Can you ensure that security is maintained in a remote environment?
- Is the work space safe, not just the Workstation? You must consider the whole work environment not simply DSE (Display Screen Equipment) regulations.
- Personal safety must also factor in who else could be in the property. Are you exposing staff to risks they may not have had previously?
- How do ensure you meet lone worker legal duty–of–care obligations?
- Some people just don’t have a suitable environment to work from home, even if their role may allow it.
- How do you ensure that there remains a demarcation between work and home? That both physically and mentally the work doesn’t take over the home.
- Some people need that physical demarcation of home and work.
- Is the person motivated and more efficient working from home or actually in a buzzing office?
- Some people want to work from home because they have family tasks that need managing, that they can’t do when “at work”.
- For others it’s the opposite and they aren’t distracted and can really focus in the peace for their own home.
- Some people are motivated by oversite and get side-tracked when there isn’t that perceived pressure. Others are significantly more efficient when they don’t feel like they are being “watched over”.
- The stage in someone’s career can also be a factor. People that have been doing the job for a long time can just get on with everything that’s thrown at them. But for those less experienced how do you fulfil the need for casual mentoring, training or building work colleague bonds?
- Humans are wired for face-to-face communication. It’s not just the words, it’s the eye contact, body language. This is totally lost in emails, mostly lost in voice calls. Video calls still aren’t as good as real world interaction for negotiating, decision making and bonding.
- Video calls can be more efficient than a traditional meeting, especially if you all don’t have to travel. People are on time, there is less banter, fewer distractions and you stay more focused on the agenda .… or it can be a total disorganised disaster, which wouldn’t happen if you were all around a table. How do you monitor and ensure staff wellbeing is not suffering?
So is Hybrid working the best of both worlds?
Achieving that co-ordinated balance of focused work, team collaboration, office buzz and work-life-balance – a combination of home and office based work could be the best route forward.
But does that now mean you have to provide twice as much, or more expensive portable equipment and technology?
Do you just end up with lots of underutilised space on the business site or actually you can now rationalise, grow, change offices/site? Hot-desking / hot-work space!
Will it work? Who knows? Every business, department, role and individual is a different combination of influences.
Should it just evolve naturally on its own? I would say absolutely not.
If this is not discussed and managed extremely carefully, defined in policies considering the whole business you will, overtime, create a divisive, inefficient, resentful disparate workforce. The can’s and the cannot’s. The efficient and the lost. All of which will just harm the business and its staff.
Work-life-balance may have a new meaning – for some it’s being allowed to work from home. For others it could be the opposite; work is just at Work. Home is my own.
So talk, discuss, gather benefits and frustrations, across all departments and demographics.
Think of simple, fair solutions but most of all don’t ignore your duty-of-care obligations. You must have safe system of work in place, where ever that “place” of work is.