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As we settle back in after the break, it’s the perfect time to plan how to avoid the employment pitfalls caused by the pandemic and thrive in 2022.
By Amy Butterworth, Consultancy Director, Timewise
After nearly two years spent working in pandemic conditions, it’s time for leaders to review the successes and challenges they’ve experienced with flex and make concrete improvements for the future. Taking a few simple steps now will help turn concerns about the great resignation, the two-tier workplace and fragmented teams into opportunities to create a motivated, cohesive workforce.
During the pandemic we’ve bounced backwards and forwards between working from home and returning to the office. It’s felt chaotic and stressful, but the upside of this uncertainty is that we’ve experienced a variety of new working patterns. Now is an ideal time to be candid about what is – and isn’t – working for your team.
The resolution: Implement a specific plan to improve flex working
Set an honest, collaborative tone by consulting with your teams on their experiences and openly sharing the constraints you’re facing. This will allow you to decide on and implement clear, measurable actions to meet these challenges. Could a change in working hours or regular, virtual 121s help flex work more smoothly? Find the processes and patterns that will make your resolution stick and commit to reviewing them regularly.
2. The challenge: Address the imbalance of a two-tier workforce
Thanks to the swift introduction of working from home, many companies are being confronted with an unintended, unequal two-tier workforce and the dissatisfaction that can bring. Frontline workers who are required to be present in the workplace can easily feel resentful towards the hybrid workers who remain at home without having to spend time or money commuting.
The resolution: Expand your flex working options
Hybrid working should not be the only flexible working option available to employees. It places those on the frontline in industries like catering, transport and tourism at a significant disadvantage. Forward-thinking companies now offer flexibility around the timing and amount of work undertaken, as well as the location. One of our clients realised their hybrid working plans wouldn’t suit their entire workforce so they now plan to trial part-time working, flexible shift patterns and the option to work anti-social hours as well.
3. The challenge: Engage detached, disheartened teams
Despite everyone’s best efforts, the last two years have seen the cancellation of team-building events and parties alongside the abandonment of communal office spaces, leaving workers feeling increasingly detached from their managers and colleagues. Maintaining shared goals and a sense of camaraderie is key to achieving targets and engaging employees – so what can be done?
The resolution: Set aside time to connect with your employees
The intensification of work has made it tempting for leaders and managers to spend the time that would have normally been spent on physically engaging with their teams on other tasks – but that’s a mistake. Even when you can’t bring people together in person, you need to ring-fence that time and find alternative ways to engage with them instead.
This could include simple day-to-day actions, such as building informal catch-up time into your virtual meetings and allocating team ownership for activities and goals. It could also be through fun, creative ideas such as learning circles, gif battles or online lunch dates. To engage a flexible workforce and improve team connection, you’ll need a range of in-person and virtual options.
4. The challenge: Ensure hybrid workers aren’t overlooked
Out of sight, really could mean out of mind when it comes to career progression for hybrid workers, particularly women who often combine flexible working hours with family and caring duties. LinkedIn has found that a third of UK business leaders and nearly half of UK workers are concerned about the favouritism of proximity bias – the tendency to promote workers visible in the office at the expense of those working from home.
The resolution: Give hybrid workers a clear career plan
To make sure hybrid workers have a fair chance of promotion, spend longer than usual defining, “what good looks like” with them and make sure you set measurable outcomes-based objectives. Challenge yourself to reward and recognise people for the outcomes they achieve rather than the number of hours they are present in the workplace.
5. The challenge: Turn the great resignation into a great opportunity
Triggered by a dramatic increase in remote working options, the great resignation of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 to find more flexible options looks set to continue. Rather than looking on this upheaval as a negative, this change to the working landscape can offer an opportunity for employers to attract loyal and highly skilled talent.
The resolution: Shout about your flex options to attract new talent
Design any jobs you’re advertising with flexible working built in, and make it obvious which options are on offer – whether that’s homeworking, part-time, variable hours or an alternative. Promising a vague flexible working culture is simply not enough to gain the trust of potential employees.
Action any or all of these resolutions and you’ll be well-placed to build a robust, motivated and united team, ready to take on whatever this year may bring. At Timewise we can equip you to create a successful flexible working strategy for the future of your business so you can thrive in 2022 and beyond; contact us to find out more.
Big Society Capital exists to improve the lives of people in the UK through social impact investing. They unite ideas, expertise and capital to create investment solutions for the UK’s social challenges, supporting organisations that deliver both positive social impact and sustainable financial returns. The company has around 75 employees, with an office in central London.
Leaders at Big Society Capital have long been keen to ensure that their staff work in a way that fits with the rest of their lives, and helps them do their best work. 25% of employees work part-time, and the company is currently working to a hybrid model, with employees spending between 20% and 40% of their time in the office.
The HR team at Big Society Capital wanted to find a middle way between employees putting in formal requests for flexible working and having an informal chat. They were also determined to build on the positive learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic, and make sure they were firmly embedded.
Big Society Capital were aware of our long-held expertise in this are and sought our advice on the best approach.
Our team worked closely with the HR lead to explore the different options available. This included discussing a range of ideas and sharing examples of good practice from our other clients. We concluded that the best approach would be to create a framework and principles for discussion.
We collaborated with the team to create these, and received positive feedback and approval from the Executive Committee. Additionally, we sought feedback from managers, to check that they would work in practice, and delivered training on how best to implement them.
At the time of writing, the framework and principles are still relatively new. The HR team are committed to evaluating them on a regular basis and making any tweaks that are necessary. Plans include a formal evaluation through their next employee engagement survey, and a review of the number of formal and informal requests taking place following the change.
Anecdotally, the framework and principles have been well received. The team have put in place regular surgeries for staff to come and ask any questions they may have about how to use them.
The client’s view
“If you have a small HR team, having external expertise and support is incredibly helpful when you’re creating a new set of working practices. Amy was brilliant; she gave a huge amount of coaching, advice and feedback, and her depth of knowledge and insights from other organisations on what works meant we developed a really robust framework and principles which I’m confident will succeed.” Julia Boddy, Head of HR, Big Society Capital.
By Amy Butterworth, Principal Consultant, Timewise
There’s a growing sense out there that it’s time to start bringing people back into the office. With restrictions having eased on 19 July, and the worst of the pandemic (hopefully) behind us, leadership teams all over the UK appear to be planning a full-scale return, albeit, in many cases, on a hybrid basis.
However, the move towards more office-based work isn’t universally popular; one IPA/Opinium survey found that only 31% of adults favoured a full-time return to the office, with fully flexible approaches and a hybrid 3:2 model both preferred. Some are being hugely vocal on the subject; employees at Apple wrote a letter to their CEO in June responding to (and rejecting) the proposal that they would be required to return to the office for three days each week.
As a result, leaders who believe the return to the office has clear benefits are left treading a delicate balance, between supporting their employees’ work preferences and doing what they think is right for the organisation. It’s not a straightforward one to fix, but it does need fixing; forcing people to come back in against their will won’t work for them or the organisation. Instead, here are some suggestions for how you should approach it.
The first thing to do, if you haven’t already, is to find out what your employees are thinking and feeling. What’s the appetite for coming back into the office, and what are the objections? What could you do to help them feel more comfortable? For example, would a simple adjustment to the timings of their working day that cut out rush hour travel make a difference to their preferences?
Once you’ve understood how people are feeling in general, you need to dig deeper into any concerns. And there are likely to be a wide range of reasons why people are unwilling to return.
For some, working from home will have changed their lives for the better, such as replacing commuting with exercise time or being able to share childcare. Others may genuinely feel that they’re more productive outside of the office; some may have even relocated on the assumption that they will be able to work some of their week from home. For others, particularly those with health issues or dependents, there may be real fears about exposure to Covid-19 or their ability to juggle their responsibilities.
Recognising the benefits that remote working has brought your employees, and registering their concerns about returning, will help you design a solution that allows them to hold onto the good stuff, and feel supported to manage their specific needs.
Armed with these insights, you need to ask yourself this question: what are you asking your employees to come back in for?
Given the concerns that people may have, you’ll need to make sure it’s worth it; simply expecting them to come in just to sit at their desks and work like they used to won’t be enough. And nor is it sufficient to trot out the line that people should ‘come in for collaboration’; that’s just too vague.
So instead, take this as an opportunity to re-evaluate not just the office, but the working day. Start from scratch, challenging assumptions and long-held ways of doing things. If you could design the best way to deliver your company’s objectives, what would it look like? If you were to rethink the working day, with wellbeing and productivity as your focus instead of hours clocked, what changes would you make?
And involve your team in this process, to make sure that the changes you agree will stick. For example, as part of our hybrid workshop for line managers, we advise carrying out activity analysis with their teams. This involves looking at the different types of activity needed to deliver their goals, and the best time and place to do them.
This process of exploration will give you a platform to work out what the purpose of your office should be, and to explain to employees why, and when, you would like them to come in.
As part of the evaluation process, you’ll need to make sure you’re not being swayed by your own preferences and biases. Are you keen to bring people back in because that’s how you prefer to manage? Does it just feel easier to go back to how it’s always been done? That’s not a good enough reason to stick to the status quo.
Similarly, if your line managers are nervous about being in charge of a team they can’t see, that isn’t a reason to make everyone come in. Upskilling your managers to support and develop remote colleagues is a far better solution.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that there is no one-size-fits-all for flexible and hybrid working. So whatever your new office set-up and working day looks like, there will still be some people for whom it isn’t appropriate, or who may need additional support.
For example, even if you decide that certain team meetings need to be attended in person, you should still make provision for anyone who can’t attend, such as allocating a buddy in the room who can advocate for their airtime. By making inclusivity a priority, and thinking beyond the technology, it should always be possible to find a solution.
The bottom line is, there is no going back, at least not for people-focused, forward-looking organisations. The shifts caused by the pandemic are too wide, and too deep, to be overturned; employee demand for flexible options is higher than ever, and you risk damaging your retention strategy and your employer brand if you don’t respond. And of course, you would also miss the opportunity to build back better. But these are big strategic issues to explore, and you may need some help; if you’d like to know more about how we could support your process, please do get in touch.
By Amy Butterworth, Principal Consultant, Timewise
It’s fair to say that hybrid working is a bit of a Marmite issue. For every organisation which seems set to embrace it (including Google and Nationwide) there are others who don’t see it as viable, such as Goldman Sachs, whose CEO described working from home as ‘an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible’.
Of course it’s not unusual to find divisions between different organisations on how to approach change. But what happens if the spectrum of opinion within your leadership team includes those who love it and those who hate it? How can a compromise be achieved?
The fact is, with the majority of employees saying they would prefer a more flexible working model, and the younger age group overwhelmingly saying it’s their preference, going back to the’ old normal’ is no longer viable. (Just take a look at what happened when Apple suggested that staff needed to start heading back into the office.) So any organisation which wants to remain competitive, and avoid getting left behind in the battle for talent, will need to try and develop a workable solution.
We fully understand how difficult this can be, as it’s something we often come across when we’re supporting companies to develop a hybrid model. So here’s our advice on how to develop a fair, inclusive approach, which bridges the gap between your hybrid fans and foes
This kind of topic can create a heated response, so it’s worth framing the discussion carefully and creating space for everyone to contribute. Make it clear from the start that there are no right or wrong answers, and all opinions are welcome. It can be helpful to share a range of approaches from different organisations to highlight that it’s a subjective issue, and that what works for one organisation may not work for another.
By allowing everyone to be heard, you’ll make it more likely that they will embrace whatever new ways of working are agreed
So often, negative attitudes are based on individual preferences. For example, someone who doesn’t like working from home is likely to want the rest of their team in the office with them, and to focus on the negative aspects of remote working. Whereas someone who has a long commute might be very keen on a model that allows them to spend more of the week at home.
Another frequent barrier is a simple fear of change; people who are used to being able to physically see their colleagues, and lead them face to face, may struggle with having to develop a more remote leadership style. There may also be a concern that a move towards a hybrid model may take the culture too far from where it is now, and morph the company into something different.
Understanding the root of people’s objections can help you find a way forward that will bring everyone with you
It’s worth remembering that hybrid working is not a goal in itself, it’s a way of achieving your goals. So work out what priorities it will help you tackle, what good hybrid working will look like, and how you will know whether you have succeeded. This could include meeting employee demand for flexibility, boosting your ability to attract new talent, reducing your office space, or cutting down on employee commutes.
By identifying common organisational goals for hybrid working, you’ll find it easier to bring people with different starting points together
Finally, once you have identified the change you want to see within your organisation, it’s sound practice to create a framework for how it will unfold. This will help you provide solid guidelines and parameters for your employees to work within, which in turn will support employee engagement and productivity, as well as an inclusive culture based on trust.
These are the key steps to take:
Hybrid working, in some form or another, is very likely here to stay, and failing to move with the times could be damaging for your company. But there’s a difference between implementing short-term changes at speed and building a sustainable approach that brings everyone with you; and the latter is much more likely to win over those who are instinctively against it, and set you up for success in the future of work.
By Claire Campbell, Programme Director, Timewise
In Part 1 of our corporate insights into hybrid working, we shared the highlights of our recent roundtable for Timewise Partners, at which we explored how two organisations are approaching the principles and design of sustainable hybrid practices.
But of course, the work doesn’t stop once these have been agreed; it’s equally critical to understand how to implement the changes, and to do so in a way that is both fair and inclusive. This second part explains how our two organisations are approaching these issues, and shares their answers to some specific questions from attendees about making hybrid a reality.
Our speakers agreed that it was important that all members of a team are clear about what their responsibilities are, and how they will collaborate to make it a success. They also noted that line managers need specific training on how to manage, connect and develop a team which is not together all the time. Their advice for leaders and managers includes:
Our speakers also highlighted the challenges that hybrid working can create regarding inclusivity and fairness. There was a consensus that these should not prevent companies adopting a hybrid model, but that they do need to be addressed if the model is to succeed. Insights shared with attendees include:
Our speakers also shared a few of the other issues that they have started to consider as part of their hybrid working implementation. Their snapshots include:
Instead of looking at it from a purely cost perspective, consider re-framing the question around the types of work people will do in different spaces, then set up the office space to facilitate more collaborative work, networking and making connections. Priming employees to think in these ways about where they do particular pieces of work will help get the best from both.
And the last word goes to one of our speakers, with a final, spot-on principle: “If you rush and stumble into this, it will go badly wrong very quickly.” If you need help getting it right, take a look at our hybrid working workshops, or get in touch to find out more about our bespoke consultancy services.
By Claire Campbell, Programme Director, Timewise
The impact of the pandemic on the barriers to flexible and remote working has been a largely positive one, with leaders and managers seeing for themselves that employees can work effectively and productively when not tied to the office. However, there’s another barrier that has also come crashing down, and this time it’s a problem: the barrier between work and home.
Throughout 2020 and into this year, there have been a range of reports suggesting that employees are suffering from work creep – in which their working hours spill over into the evenings and weekends. Indeed, in an April 2021 poll by Opinium, 32% of remote workers said they find it hard to switch off from work, and 30% reported working more unpaid hours than before the pandemic.
The Irish government has responded by writing the right to disconnect into an official code of practice, and the union Prospect is calling for it to be written into UK law, describing the blurred boundary between home and work as ”the dark side of remote working”. So, are they right? Do we need legislation to protect employees from work creep – or are there other, better ways of tackling it?
Here at Timewise, we believe it’s critical to get this right; if the hybrid model is to be a long-term success, we do need to encourage and empower people to manage their working-from-home time.
However, we’re also of the view that broad brush, right to disconnect legislation isn’t the right way to go. After all, the point about flexible working is that people can flex their hours to suit their needs. Choice is important; if some people prefer to work in the evenings, perhaps as a trade-off for a later start or an afternoon walk, they shouldn’t be prevented from doing so.
Instead, we believe the onus should be on leaders and managers to make sure they are aware of people working consistently outside their normal hours, and then seek to understand whether it is out of choice or necessity.
During lockdown, the fact that children were not at school played a big part, as parents restructured their working hours to support home schooling. But in more normal circumstances, there are three broad reasons why employees might be working long hours:
1. Workload issues
Given that 1 in 3 employees say they have too much work, it may be that the individual is struggling to deal with an excessive workload or unrealistic time pressure. They may need extra support to make their workload more manageable, or help them prioritise.
This may involve taking a whole team perspective, to see whether the work could be shared out more fairly. But certainly, helping someone feel supported through a particularly pressured time will have a positive effect on their motivation, commitment and mental wellbeing
2. Performance issues
If the workload is not excessive, but there is still evidence of regular long hours, it may be that there is an underlying performance issue. Perhaps the employee doesn’t have the skills and support they need to deliver. Or they may be struggling with a personal or health issue which is affecting their ability to complete the required tasks.
It’s important to address these issues rather than let the situation fester, and risk ending up in a downward spiral with long hours continuing to negatively affect performance.
3. Culture issues
This is a tougher nut to crack – but it is one that needs cracking, not just to deal with work creep, but also to support successful hybrid working, employee engagement and wellbeing. Attitudes to work-life balance have really shifted as a result of the pandemic, and forward-looking leaders are making sure they have a culture to match.
The fact is, workplaces, or teams, which have an ‘always on’ culture, in which employees are expected to respond to emails and calls at any time of the day, and to deliver to unmanageable timescales, are not healthy places to be. They won’t get the best out of their people, and nor will they be viewed by brilliant candidates as a viable next step.
Leaders whose organisations veer towards this kind of culture need to act swiftly to turn things around. They need to clarify what’s expected of their staff, and set protocols around how and when people contact each other (Zoom-free Friday afternoons and avoiding sending out-of-hours emails are ways to tackle this that are being widely discussed).
They also need to make sure that line managers are placing realistic expectations on their direct reports, and have the skills to look after any who might be struggling in the ways set out above. And, perhaps most important of all, they need to lead by example, switching off themselves and being seen to do so, instead of firing out emails at all hours and making others feel pressured to do the same.
So if you spot what looks like work creep in your organisation, the steps are clear: call it out, work out why it’s happening and take steps to address it. Don’t just accept it; the chances are it’s a symptom of a bigger problem that won’t go away on its own.
And if you feel you need additional support with embracing flexible working to support a good work-life balance, we’re here to help; do get in touch.
It’s fair to say that introducing flexible working in schools is more challenging than in many other sectors. As we previously explained in our report, Building flexibility into secondary schools, there are a number of barriers that have slowed progress in this area, including the logistics of timetabling, the need for teachers to be student-facing, and other cultural and attitudinal factors.
But the case for change is clear: the lack of part-time and flexible roles has been identified as a key reason behind the teaching brain drain. It also makes it harder to attract talented people to the profession, and to encourage them to return after a career break.
And whilst the pandemic has created huge pressures for school leaders and staff, from the cancellation of external exams to the need to create a safe environment for staff and students to return to, it’s undeniable that it has also opened up opportunities to rethink how things are done. Furthermore, as in most sectors, it has encouraged employers to increase their focus on staff wellbeing, and employees to evaluate their work life balance, and seek out ways to make it better.
We have long been interested in encouraging flexible working in schools, and are part-way through an action research project with three MATS. This will see us exploring the barriers to flexibility in more depth, and looking at how the positive experiences schools have gained during the pandemic can be taken forward. We’ll follow this up by designing flexible roles that can work around or overcome these barriers, and pilot them within schools.
As always, we will share our learnings during and at the end of this project, so all schools can benefit. But we are also really keen to give school leaders and HR teams the support they need to get started right now. So we have created a bank of resources to do just that, by:
We have also pulled out some of the key questions schools have asked us about implementing flexible working, and answered them in more detail.
We do hope you find these resources useful, and are able to build on them to create new, better opportunities for flexible working within your school. If you would like to explore the possibility of working with us to progress your plans, do please get in touch.
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust comprises a specialist cancer hospital based in Withington, Manchester, with satellite centres at Oldham and Salford. It is also a founding partner of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, alongside with Cancer Research UK and University of Manchester.
The Trust employs over 3,000 employees and was the first NHS high-energy proton beam therapy centre in the UK, providing an advanced form of radiotherapy.
All NHS Trusts face challenges with recruitment and retention, as there are fewer people than there are roles that need filling. Additionally, NHS Staff survey results highlighted that the Trust was not perceived by staff to be open to flexible working, even though there were some pockets with excellent provision.
The HR team at the Christie came to Timewise because they wanted to proactively address these challenges. they also wanted to differentiate their organisation from other local trusts as a great place to work, which proactively encourages a positive work/ life balance.
The team felt that their reputation for delivering outstanding patient care needed to be mirrored by one of delivering outstanding staff care. They wanted to develop a proactive approach to flexible working which was open to all, whatever their personal circumstances, and to be known to be supportive of staff engagement, wellbeing and work life balance.
Following a recommendation, they approached us to support them in a programme to develop a more flexible culture and practice.
The programme began with a kick-off workshop, hosted by Timewise and attended by a project team made up of a cross-section of senior managers from across the Trust. We then carried out an audit of the Christie’s flexible culture, data and policies, and some staff engagement sessions.
Using the feedback from these sessions, we then ran a visioning workshop with the project team, helping them understand their current position on the Timewise Flexible Maturity Curve and where they wanted to get to. This was followed by an action planning workshop with the project team. We then supported the creation of a flexible working action plan which set out clear goals for the next two years.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put the implementation of the action plan on hold, and so limited the learnings that have been gathered at this stage. However, it has also helped remove some of the barriers to flexible working that had previously existed, and encouraged a perception that flexible working can be made to work.
Early learnings from the programme to date include:
Goals written into the action plan include:
Setting up a flexible working/job share pool to help staff buddy up and share roles.
Working in partnership with Timewise to expand our flexible working practice was a real success. It was so helpful to have an external insight into our flexible status and what we needed to do next, and we felt confident about being guided by their expertise. As well as hands-on support for each of the programme stages and events, they were responsive and helpful with any questions or issues we uncovered, and felt like a part of our extended team.Natalie Marshall, Head of Operational HR, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
By Claire Campbell, Programme Director, Timewise
If there’s one phrase I’m hearing more than any other right now (apart from “You’re on mute”), it’s ‘hybrid working’. In meetings, in articles, in podcasts, everyone is talking about it; it seems it’s one of the main strategic priorities of 2021.
But despite all the discussion, not everyone seems to agree on exactly what it means – or understand how to do it well. So, here’s the Timewise lowdown on what it is, why it matters and how to make it work.
Hybrid working has always existed, but its prevalence has been turbocharged by the pandemic and subsequent remote working experiment. There isn’t yet a definitive definition, but at its core, it’s an arrangement in which an individual, team or organisation work part of their time at the workplace and part remotely.
In the brief periods in 2020 when office workers were allowed back into the workplace, the need for social distancing meant that most only went in for part of their working week. As a result, many employees experienced a hybrid pattern for the first time – and the evidence suggests they’re keen to stick with it.
At its best, hybrid working is about matching the task to the location, and doing the right work in the right place; there are numerous examples of people saying they work more productively on certain tasks from home. And from an employer’s perspective, there are many positives too.
Hybrid working, like flexible working in general, offers huge benefits for employers who take it seriously and deliver it well. These benefits are well-established by now, but here’s a recap of the main ones:
Thanks to the leaps that have been made in technology, it’s possible to be present in, and contribute to, most meetings, even when you’re elsewhere. And for those of us who have long been interested in flexible working, it’s worth noting that the focus on hybrid working, and the changes as a result, are hugely beneficial for part-time employees, as well as full-time hybrid ones.
However, while the benefits are clear, hybrid working isn’t risk-free. Here are some of the issues you need to consider:
What these issues clearly show is that this isn’t something you can leave to chance. Just telling your people they can split their week between home and the office and then crossing your fingers and hoping it will work itself out won’t wash.
Instead, you need to work to develop a hybrid culture, in which:
Already, different organisations are finding new ways to tackle this; for example, in some workplaces all meetings take place digitally, so that those at home have equal representation to those in the office. And some leaders are taking this as an opportunity to completely rethink what their HQ is used for, such as remodelling the office as a place for relationship building and collaboration rather than producing work.
There’s a lot to think about, certainly – but if, as seems likely, hybrid working is the future, it’s worth investing the time and training to get it right. We can help; as well as running a series of workshops on all elements of flexible and hybrid working, we have also created a new Flex Positive programme, to help employers design and develop future-fit workplaces. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.
By Claire Campbell, Programme Director, Timewise
So, here we go again, back into lockdown. Morale is low and people are exhausted; frontline workers, in particular, have had little respite. For office-based employees, many of whom had been planning to spend some of their time back in the workplace, it’s time to pivot once again to enforced home working. And for parents across all sectors, home schooling has been added to the to-do list.
But despite the all problems the new lockdown is likely to bring, there is one positive: we have done this before. Organisations across the country, our clients among them, have learned what works and what doesn’t. They have tried new ways of working and communicating, sticking with the successes and rejecting the failures. And in the best cases, they have used what they’ve learned as a platform to develop more flexible cultures.
Acting on the lessons others have learned will help make managing lockdown easier this time around. So, based on our insights from our clients and our own experience, here are our suggestions for what to keep, and what to avoid, when your employees are working remotely.
One of the more surprising outcomes from the first lockdown was that the explosion in remote working brought people’s home lives out into the open. For some managers, who didn’t know about the responsibilities their employees had outside work, this provided real insight into their team members’ lives. And both sides reported that people felt more supported as a result.
It’s worth noting that in the interim months, some people’s personal and financial situations may have changed for the worse; and with figures suggesting 1 in 50 people have the virus, sick leave will be on the increase. So regular check-ins will be important; it shouldn’t be a one-off.
Following on from the above, the employers who managed their teams most successfully in the first lockdown were those who realised that a 9-5 set-up wasn’t practical, and made it possible for their employees to work to a schedule that matched their responsibilities.
At a simple level, this meant things like scheduling meetings after 10am, so that parents could set their children off on their studies, or creating a timesheet code for non-work responsibilities for those who record their time (and encouraging them to use it). Some of the best examples saw employers providing additional paid carers leave, and clarifying that employees would be judged on outputs, not inputs, with active support to do so.
The risk underlying this approach is that over-diligent employees will suffer from work creep; the best employers redesigned roles that were proving too much to manage, and made it clear that switching off was both necessary and expected.
The negative impact of the pandemic on morale and mental health has been well documented, and many employees miss the interaction and creativity of the workplace when fully home-based. In the previous lockdown, the best managers and leaders put in place ways of communicating which supported team cohesion, and helped overcome physical distance.
This isn’t simply a case of arranging online coffee mornings or setting up team What’s App chats, although these do have a role to play. Acknowledging the challenges created by lockdown, and asking how your team members are feeling, is an easy place to start. Encouraging regular conversations about their purpose and priorities will help them feel connected to what they are delivering and why. Training managers to identify mental health issues and signpost support is also valuable.
Zoom fatigue became a real problem in the first lockdown, with some employees hopping from online call to online call, leaving little time or energy to get any actual work done. It’s recognised that video meetings are more exhausting than face to face ones, and the problem was exacerbated by the fact that everyone was (in theory) available, and meeting capacity unlimited, making organisers more liberal than usual with their invites.
Among the ways our clients found to address this were to block out meeting-free days or periods of time, to set out protocols for length and invitations to meetings, and to make it clear when attendance was and wasn’t expected.
There’s no question that transitioning from working in close proximity to your team to managing them remotely takes a huge mindset shift. However, in the first lockdown, some dealt with this more successfully than others. Stories emerged of teams being expected to log in to an all-day Zoom call so their boss could keep an eye on them; others of companies installing tracking software on company laptops to virtually look over people’s shoulders.
As every successful manager of flexible employees knows, trust is central to a positive working relationship. Those who managed this well in the first lockdown set clear expectations for delivery, and then gave their teams space to achieve it. For those who were struggling, our workshops were a great help.
However long this new lockdown lasts, the consensus is that there will be no going back to the old ways of working. Employees have stated in survey after survey that they want to hang on to at least some of their flexibility, and employers have seen for themselves that there are real business benefits to offering it.
The organisations that recognise this are one step ahead. Instead of seeing this shift to more flexible working as a short-term interruption of the status quo, they’re working to develop a truly flexible culture. One that starts at the top, with inspiring leadership and role modelling, and which is brought to life by well-trained managers and on-board HR.
If you feel that you need support with managing lockdown this time around, we’re here to help. In response to the impact of the pandemic, and our clients’ requests, we’ve created the Timewise Flex-Positive programme, a four-step process that helps employers develop and implement a flexible working strategy to match the evolving workplace. If you’d like to know more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, on behalf of the Timewise team, I’d like to wish you all the best with the challenges that the next few months will doubtless bring.