Hybrid working, or the ‘new’ way of working, has been a popular model with many employers and has gained a lot of positive press with employees throughout the UK over the past 18 months, as we have navigated working during the pandemic.
However, ‘work from home if you can’ guidance in England, which was put in place in December to try to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, was lifted in January and as the clock struck midnight on 24 February 2022, all legal coronavirus restrictions in England ended and we were just left with government guidance on precautions. This means that you can now consider reintroducing full-time workplace working.
Almost two-thirds of employers have planned to introduce or expand a mixture of remote and on-site working, according to a survey for The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), with 63% intending to boost “hybrid working”. Yet, now legal requirements for workplace restrictions have been removed, many businesses have been actively encouraging more employees to return to the workplace for more of the time.
So, this leads to the big question; what is the right decision to make for your team?
Should you ask all of your employees to come back to the office full-time? Or should you continue to embrace a hybrid working model as ‘best practice’?
As well as reviewing your current health and safety risk assessment, there are a few things to consider before you decide. We’ve compiled a checklist of pros and cons for hybrid and flexible working arrangements to help you consider what’s best for your organisation.
First let’s have a look at the elements of hybrid and remote working you might like to hang on to.
Flexible working and the work-life balance
There are obvious benefits of a hybrid working model for employees, but what about for employers?
When your employees are able to have a better work-life balance and adapt their working hours around their personal commitments, in turn you may find that they are more productive and focused on their work.
Equally, if your employees don’t have to commute into the office every day, they will gain valuable time and are likely to be more refreshed and enthusiastic, which is a win-win for your company.
Or, if an employee has childcare responsibilities and normally needs to leave during work hours, they can use working from home to start work earlier or make up the hours in the evening after collecting children from school.
You may not reap the financial benefits of a hybrid working model straight away, but it’s a definite perk that some businesses are already experiencing.
If you don’t have your workplace at maximum capacity all the time, you may see that your electricity and heating bills, and even extras like communal snacks and drinks outgoings, reduces substantially. Similarly, if you rent an office space, you may be able to consider downsizing and save money this way too.
If it is appropriate to do so and your work allows it, you may even be able to ask remote workers to use their own devices and save on equipment costs. If you deal with a lot of sensitive information, however, you may prefer to keep this on company hardware rather than allowing staff to access this on their personal devices.
Improved mental health
Different employees will have different triggers for their mental health, and a hybrid working model may help with this. For example, an employee may find that lack of sleep and tiredness generally is challenging, but they also prefer to have some social interaction to reduce feeling lonely.
In this case, a hybrid working model would allow an employee to cut down on commuting into the workplace every day, but also enable them to work from the office part-time with increased interaction with their colleagues.
Asking your employees in a staff survey to consider what balance between in-person and remote working would work best for them and their mental health, will also help.
Not only would this directly benefit your employees, but it can also have a seriously positive impact on their work and therefore your small business. Good employee mental health can increase productivity and job satisfaction and make the workplace – remote or in-person – a positive place.
Improved employer-employee trust
One of the most important – and arguably one of the more difficult – aspects of a healthy and productive work environment to build is employer-employee trust. And being forced to make working from home work for so long recently, has given employers and managers the opportunity to help employees gain trust by allowing them to show that they’re just as productive, if not more so, working remotely as they are when in the office.
The flexibility of hybrid working can also improve staff loyalty. If employees are able to have more freedom with flexible working to help with their work-life balance, employees won’t feel like they’re constantly being “watched” or that their every non-work action is scrutinized. This can help build respect and trust, while your management teams can see benefits from not having to spend time micromanaging or constantly checking in on employees to see if they’re working.
Long-term this can help reduce turnover as your staff may feel trusted in their role and could be more likely to engage and stay at your company longer. Therefore, for you as a small business owner, you will see benefits in reducing ongoing costs like recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training costs, as well as having a happy and more stable team.
With such a list of positives for hybrid working you might think it’s a no brainer to keep your arrangements in place, but before you decide, have a look at some of the potential downsides of hybrid and remote working to see how they might affect your business.
Remote -v- in-person: some things can get lost in translation
We are all used to Zoom or Teams meetings being part and parcel of our daily schedule, however some of the qualities of face-to-face conversations and meetings can get lost over the phone, email, or video. It can be easier to test the waters of a new proposal, raise morale or improve teamwork in person, as it can provoke more free-flow conversation and help to develop ideas.
Similarly, cross-departmental co-operation and understanding that can happen more informally in person can be hard to acquire through planned remote meetings.
There may not be planned meetings with members of other teams, but it is often easier to ask informal questions at the workplace to get a better understanding without having to set up a separate remote meeting or email exchange. While apps such as Teams and Slack offer an easy form of quick communication, things can sometimes get lost in translation and can take even longer to explain in the long run than if you were able to talk it through face-to-face.
In person meetings also help to get instant feedback from body language, tone of voice, and other informal responses which can help with things like management supervision and picking up early on stress or dissatisfaction, which may be harder to figure out without in person cues.
Onboarding and building teams remotely can be challenging
Onboarding new hires with their immediate and wider team can be challenging remotely and can lead to new employees feeling isolated and finding it difficult to form or maintain relationships with colleagues.
The more traditional and formal in-person mentoring that many had in place pre-pandemic has changed, but now, during this time of historically high turnover, getting new hires settled in quickly and easily is even more critical.
Finding ways to run in-person meetings or working in the workplace, when possible, can help build trust and knowledge in new team members, and therefore has a positive effect long term as they settle in and get to grips with the way the team works, who does what role, and how they are contributing through their work.
The employee experience gap
Not being able to wheel over to your colleagues to share thoughts on a project or even just have a regular conversation, can leave gaps in the employee experience.
This could be even more noticeable when your employees are continuously split; with some always working from home while others always come into the workplace, in-groups could form that can leave remote workers feeling left out, less favoured, and potentially lonely. You can still work to alleviate this by organising team workshops or team building exercises, that are accessible to everyone regardless of geography or location.
Challenging logistics of navigating a permanent hybrid working model
We are all pretty much well versed in working from home now, however transitioning to a permanent hybrid working structure can create some financial and logistical issues to navigate.
If you need to distribute more equipment or products, or need to manage workplace logistics, you may need to implement a more disciplined model and set out clear guidelines for your teams on who works where and what days, for things to flow easily. This can be difficult when different employees are working on multiple projects with colleagues working in the office on different days or with different schedules, for example, if they work flexibly around childcare.
You can also find out about the financial issues that may crop up in our blog here.
With competing factors like this to consider, your decision may not be straightforward. We always recommend talking to staff regularly about your thinking and taking the time to consider their feedback too.
This post was written by citrusHR who are an exhibitor on the HRTech247 HCM – Full Platform and Employee Engagement floors. You can visit their HRTech247 exhibition stand here.
The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend.