The pandemic has prompted a lasting shift in the ways we work. Employees are generally keen to continue working remotely at least some of the time, with 88% of those that we surveyed for Making hybrid inclusive – key priorities for employers and Government in October 2021 saying that they would like to work remotely between one and five days a week. We are now seeing employer plans changing to reflect this, with data released by the Office for National Statistics in May 2022 showing that the proportion of businesses reporting using or planning to use homeworking as a permanent business model increased from 16% in Autumn 2020 to 24% in early April 2022.
From onboarding new starters, to creating social activities and rethinking approaches to performance and recognition, employers will need to take a proactive approach to ensure the shift to hybrid work is inclusive and supports all workers to achieve their potential.
Work Foundation research, Hybrid and remote working in the North of England: Impact and future prospects, conducted during the pandemic and published in July 2021, found that remote working enhanced workers’ sense of flexibility and autonomy, which led to enhanced trust between employers and staff. At the same time, this mode of working blurred boundaries between work and home life, which negatively impacted mental wellbeing.
To enhance employee wellbeing and support teams to work effectively in a hybrid model, employers should firstly help employees manage their work-life balance by discussing working hours, communication and technology use. If necessary, an organisational right-to-disconnect policy should be developed in conjunction with staff and their representatives.
Secondly, they should take a deliberate approach to sharing formal and informal knowledge. The roles of both remote and in-person activities should be carefully considered, and the development of informal networks within the organisation to foster knowledge transfer, for example buddy systems or mentoring schemes, should be encouraged. This is particularly important when onboarding interns or new staff members, who might have limited previous experience to draw upon.
Thirdly, they should consult with staff to develop an approach to remote and flexible work. Consultation should be a continuous exercise aimed at developing a thorough understanding of the responsibilities and pressures that employees deal with that impact their work. This will help leaders to better adjust conditions to help workers be more productive.
And lastly, experiment and engage with staff to find an approach that works. It is important that employers check in regularly and are responsive to employees’ feedback. This can include holding an open dialogue with employees around contact hours, disconnecting from work, and how the workplace is best used.
Heather Taylor is policy analyst at The Work Foundation