Avoiding an adverse impact on culture
Active listening is crucial as employers grapple with the multitude of considerations around what is their ‘new normal’. Employers will be considering how to keep people engaged and avoid adverse impact on the culture of their organisation. Many of us are social creatures who want to be with other people. Organisations should also be alive to the risk of a two-tier workforce with the hybrid working model, creating a divide between those who must or choose to come into the office with those who predominantly want to be based at home. Front line workers and those coming back from furlough should also not feel second class or that they are getting the raw deal. Engage with workers where they don’t have flexibility – a lot of this will come through effective line manager conversations.
At the heart of the new normal should lie fairness. From a financial perspective, according to research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, those more likely to be able to work from home are on higher incomes and women have been adversely impacted by taking on the brunt of childcare and housework in general. Employers must find a way of remedying that. Younger workers may also find it difficult to have a suitable remote working environment. Following the Disability Act 1996, employers worked hard to make adjustments to accommodate everyone. Some working set-ups may make it harder to accommodate invisible disability, such as ADHD and autism. The idea of a fully flexible working environment may not suit these individuals who need space and quiet. Some may require a fixed desk.
Equally, in 2014 when the law changed in relation to flexible working requests and employees did not need to specify why they wanted to work flexibly; employers braced themselves for a floodgate of requests which did not materialise. Here it is different – everyone has experienced flexible working and might want to continue some aspects of their working arrangements from the last 12 months. These requests must be balanced with employees’ rights under the Equality Act. Not assessing each request fairly may lead to direct discrimination claims – for male employees or indirect discrimination for female employees if they are adversely affected by their request being refused.
In terms of performance management in 2021, some are suggesting that businesses should wipe the slate clean. These are not normal circumstances for people. Managers need to be trained and confident to manage a hybrid workforce. They must ensure people are not impeded in their career development and not curtailed by hybrid working practices.
Key things to consider in terms of process and policy:
- Virtual recruitment processes: candidates are keen to see employers offering flexibility, virtual interviews and adjustments where necessary and a positive induction experience.
- Employment contracts: in terms of changes to employees’ places of work, legislation states that if the terms and conditions change for staff employed before April 2020, contractual documentation must meet section 1 Employment Rights Act 1996 requirements going forward if this is a long-term, permanent arrangement.
- How to navigate non-returners: employers need to understand why an individual is refusing to return. They might need additional reassurance around health and safety measures or disability adjustments they require. Engage with reluctant employees and make adjustments so they’re comfortable with the new working environment.
- Remote and hybrid work policy: a defined policy may help employers and employees understand the new rules, so people know where they stand.
- Remote working costs: there is a question around who bears the cost for calls, equipment, Wi-Fi, heating, etc. A sensible conversation is required around the balance of the costs. Whilst the employer must ensure a safe place of work, the employee is saving on the commute.
- Benefits packages: Benefits have to be more creative in a hybrid model, such as virtual exercise classes and how to recognise birthdays. Consider what is part of the glue that helps you retain your existing workforce. There have been organisations responding to the increase in pets over lockdown, some considering a ‘pawternity’ leave concept for the new normal. Nespresso Professional the coffeemaker also highlighted how 80 per cent would welcome their employer providing coffee solutions at home.
- Digital nomads: for those remote working from abroad, aside from issues around pay and ensuring the level is fair for that market, there may be potential conflicts with labour laws in that jurisdiction. There are questions around how to calculate the right tax and social security levels as an employer and whether this is a place of business if the company doesn’t have a formal presence in that jurisdiction.
- Wellbeing: this issue has risen up the Board agenda massively over last 12 months. There has been a sense of a never-ending conveyor belt of restrictions, which takes a toll on health and wellbeing. Employees have struggled with working environments not set up for remote work; balancing childcare needs when nursery and schools have been closed; missing the buzz of the office; and struggling with isolation. Productivity may have declined for some and the idea of re-joining colleagues is becoming important. Employers should continue to support mental health and individuals with early interventions and regular check-ins.