Despite the slight delay, 16 months of pandemic restrictions are finally expected to be lifted on 19 July.
Although employers were thrown into the world of home working with very little notice last March, they have certainly had quite a while to think about the end of lockdown and how to bring people back into offices. Getting a flexible work policy in place that is fit for the future is a significant challenge for many businesses.
Arup has become one of the first big names in the industry to nail its colours to the mast. The firm announced a flexible working policy that will allow its 6,000 UK employees to work their hours across all seven days of the week, with only two days having to be spent in the office.
Data from a trial Arup helpfully ran before the pandemic showed people not only felt better able to manage their life under the flexible system but were also more productive at work.
So what are the advantages of offering a flexible work policy?
Voluntary staff turnover has been limited during the pandemic, with people understandably cautious about starting new roles at such a turbulent time. But as the world of work slowly returns to some kind of normality, and the economy picks up, expect to see a buoyant jobs market. Holding on to good people could be the next major challenge for many companies, and a strong flexible working policy is a great first step in meeting it.
With vacancies increasing, getting your employer branding right will be mission-critical. To attract top senior-level talent, it’s important now more than ever to show that you are a progressive employer with an attractive flexible working policy. It’s simple, the less strict you can be with hours and locations, the wider your talent pool will be.
Another key tenant of employer branding is diversity. If you offer a working model that can accommodate everyone, then you can attract a broader group of individuals to your organisation. This has huge benefits in improving your working culture, avoiding group think and achieving better results.
As the Arup trial found, people are generally more productive when they can work on terms that suit their lifestyles. If your project director can get their kids to school without having to be on a stressful work call at the same time, and pick their car up from the garage before it closes, then go through emails later in the evening in peace, they will be far more effective than if they are forced to sit at a desk from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. Happier workers are more productive.
People who have become used to working at home are going to be coming back to the office with a multitude of questions and requests to their line managers. If you don’t have a clear, fair framework in place for dealing with those, you risk a very uneven picture across the business – a recipe for stress and resentment.
So there are many very good reasons for drawing up a flexible work policy – and additional advantages in being seen as a market leader on this. But do bear in mind the challenges these policies need to overcome.
No-one thinks that presenteeism in the office is the answer to staff wellbeing but as we’ve found out during the pandemic, there are also challenges in managing staff mental health at home.
Too many video calls, a lack of clear start and end times, and the blurring of the boundaries between home and work can all lead to stress and anxiety. Some of this could even be exacerbated by a hybrid model. Finding ways to monitor and maintain mental health is important. KPMG is actually reducing staff hours throughout this summer to allow people to “re-energise”.
Communication is another challenge. First, of course, to ensure service levels to clients are maintained and operational goals are met. If two people need to communicate on something, do they both need to work the same days? Does a deadline require high staff levels on a particular week? But second, if one person is trekking into the office, they probably want to see others in their team and have relevant meetings – so it’s no good if everyone else is on a home or off day. Co-ordination is vital.