Employee working remotely

Engaging, reflective, highly practical and full of ‘light bulb moments’ are the phrases that have been used to describe the webinar “Blurred Boundaries and Burnout – the challenges of a new flexible working world” hosted by Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing for members of The Surrey & Sussex HR Forum.

The flexible world of working

Aptly held on the day all Covid restrictions were lifted and focussing on the ‘great office return’, the webinar looked at how much has changed from a working perspective across the last two years and just how important it is for businesses to truly embrace our new way of hybrid working. By all accounts, hybrid and remote working are here to stay and it would be naïve for any employer to think otherwise, however, as with anything new, these ways of working are posing some new and interesting challenges for employers.

Life has changed and so have our expectations

Never one to beat around the bush, Steve quickly highlighted some key points about how businesses need to look through the lens of an employee post-pandemic, because life has changed quite significantly for the majority of people and with that, so have their expectations.

March 23rd 2020, we all entered an alien world where there was no certainty, no timeline and anxiety ruled. We had no idea what the future was ahead, or how it was going to look, but we adapted quickly and by all accounts, we did a very good job considering the number of lockdowns, restrictions etc that were mounted upon us all.

Fast forward two years and finally, all restrictions have been lifted and suddenly we are made to feel that life can return to ‘normal’. However, returning to a life that pre-pandemic was considered to be normal, might well feel like a different world entirely today.

“I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then” (Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Employees have proven they can manage remote working effectively

It is fair to say that we have all changed in some way or another and one of the big things that have come about from our enforced incarceration, is that a large proportion of the working population have proved they can work highly effectively at home without the need to be in an office on a regular basis.

Having spent circa 700 days with on/off restrictions, many of us have created a world that relies on us being at home far more than we were ever able to be before. The normal things in life will have carried on happening, but we will probably be managing them differently – perhaps the childcare has been shared more evenly and jobs have been moulded to fit around this? Perhaps you have moved to a house further away, so you could have more space to have your own office, therefore, your commute to the office will be further and more costly? Maybe you decided to get a dog whilst working at home and someone needs to be there to look after it? There are a plethora of events and things that could have happened that means your lifestyle is not the same as it was pre-pandemic.

Recruitment and retention – we must move with the times

Take into consideration these points and couple them with the existing ‘skills-shortage’ issue we have as a nation and you can instantly see why businesses that are not moving with the times by offering remote, hybrid or flexible working options, will be fraught with recruitment and retention issues. Why would someone want to return to a world that does not reflect theirs now?

Employers who think that their staff will be more than happy to trot back to their offices in the same manner that they did pre-pandemic, will quickly see the repercussions as their employees start to migrate to their competitors who, unsurprisingly, will be accepting that the ‘new normal’ is to offer hybrid or remote working options.

The benefits of working remotely

For employees, there are a wealth of benefits associated to working at home and likewise, there are many benefits for the employers as well. But, for both sides, there are issues that need to be recognised and addressed, especially from the employer’s perspective.

As highlighted by Steve, many companies have successfully embraced home working over the past two years and if we are honest, many have done this with probably rather thinly supported policies that have managed to see them through without too many issues. However, now, with this ‘new normal’ it is screamingly evident that to proceed with successful remote working or hybrid solutions, each company must ensure they have robust and workable policies in place to ensure both the employee and employer are well protected.

For employers, the benefits may include:

  • Reduced cost of office space
  • Reduced expenses claims
  • Improved employee wellbeing
  • Higher productivity
  • Reduction in short-term absence
  • Improved CSR
  • Improved recruitment & retention

For employees, the benefits can be very attractive:

  • Reduced commuting costs
  • Reduced commuting time
  • Reduced childcare/care costs
  • Better work/life balance
  • Reduced work-related costs
  • Less potential workplace ‘friction’
  • Flexibility to deliver on work

The importance of robust hybrid or remote working policies

There are challenges associated to home working that raise questions and issues that need to be addressed by employers to create a robust remote and hybrid working policy. Some of the things that need considering include:

  • How does an employer manage and measure the productivity of a remote worker?
  • What are the minimum offices hours being worked and how is this monitored?
  • Remote working doesn’t suit everyone, so how can the mental wellbeing of an employee be monitored, and ‘burnout’ be avoided?
  • Are remote or hybrid workers receiving equal treatment as their office peers?
  • Have the health & safety issues of the home working environment been checked?
  • How are training and appraisals conducted, and the correct support given?
  • How are the costs of home working and travel set up?
  • Who is responsible for the cost and responsibility of work equipment?
  • What benefits are offered to remote and hybrid employees and how do they access these?

Potential risks that employers cannot ignore

Further considerations that became more evident during lockdown are somewhat newer and could pose risks, so thought must be given to:

  • How secure is their company data and who has access to the system?
  • Is there a higher risk of fraud?
  • Is there a risk of ransomware being used?
  • Is the employee safe to be working at home?
  • How can an employer be sure that an employee isn’t at risk from controlling behaviour or abuse whilst working at home?
  • How can ‘burnout’ be avoided – should a ‘Right to Disconnect’ policy be brought in (much like France, Italy, Spain and now Ireland)?
  • How far does the employer’s ‘duty of care’ extend to home and flexible workers?

Many of these aspects will already be part of policies that are in place for office-based workers, however, ensuring that the same structure, benefits, protection and consideration is given to hybrid and remote working staff is imperative, not only the wellbeing and retention of existing employees but for the attraction and recruitment of future talent.

We’re here to help

If you are looking for support with your recruitment strategy, our team at The Recruitment Consultancy are here to help. We offer permanent, temporary and contract recruitment solutions to businesses across Surrey and Sussex. Life has changed and the roles we are recruiting for are quickly evolving, however, the values we have held for the past 25 years remain the same.

Likewise, if you are looking to overhaul your employee benefits and wellbeing solutions, Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy for Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing will be very happy to offer his experience and knowledge to ensure your company is staying ahead of the changing demands and expectations associated with remote working.