When COVID-19 came along, it impacted almost every area of our lives including fundamentally changing the way most of us work. Overnight, offices around the country were abandoned and staff sent home to work, regardless of the suitability of their home as a workspace. With the survival of jobs and companies depending on it, new and innovative ways of working were swiftly adopted.
With a vaccine roll out firmly in place here in the UK, companies are once again considering how to adapt to changing circumstances. One thing is for certain, even after ‘Freedom day’ on the 19th July, we won’t be returning to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’.
Many of us want to continue to work at home in some capacity. Recent CIPD research and a pre-pandemic YouGov survey showed that prior to COVID-19, 65% of employees didn’t offer their staff the opportunity to work from home regularly, or only allowed 10% or less of their employees to do so. Now, more than 40% of employer expect over half of their workforce to work regularly from home. Businesses are adapting their working practices to suit this new set up, gearing up for this new form of ‘hybrid working’.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working – when staff combine a mixture of both home and office working – will certainly mean different things for different businesses. The organisations that appear to be leading the way are flexible when it comes to employees working practices. Instead of forcing staff back to the office, they’re working with them to find the right balance for them when it comes to how and where they work.
Many organisations, both large and small have already announced long term changes to the way they will allow their staff to work. Deloitte have even published a questionnaire to help organisations work out how to create and assess new ways of working in the ‘new normal’.
One big challenge is balancing the expectations of individual employees, whilst agreeing a strategy that benefits the whole organisation. Implementing remote working in a structured way has been key to retaining productivity.
Graham Hill, the owner of Verbatim, a telephone answering company, typical of many small and medium sized businesses in the UK, notes, “Many of our team already work from home and will continue to do so. As a company, we are also lucky that our call-answering team have adapted well to new working methods throughout the pandemic. Now that things are opening up once more, we will continue to offer our team flexibility to work in a way which best suits their personal circumstances”.
Keeping communications open
As well as offering staff flexible working opportunities, many businesses are also looking at ways to retain a professional ‘front of house’, even with many employees working from the kitchen table or the bedroom. This is even more challenging at a time when businesses may face having fewer resources, and staff still on furlough. Keeping all-important lines of communication open with clients and customers is crucial, even with workforces working in a hybrid fashion.
Flexibility is key
Outsourcing is often the answer. Both customer facing and back office functions can be outsourced effectively, especially when to resource internally would be expensive or disruptive. Take telephone answering and web chat answering, for many smaller companies these do not warrant a full-time role, but equally they cannot be ignored and with staff working in a variety of different ways, ever more attention needs to be paid to seamless communications. Whilst others provide flexible office space for those workers wishing to spend time out of the home, but no longer wish to commute to a distant head office every day.
Many progressive companies are having an open dialogue with the staff, trialling different approaches and ways of working. Some will work. Some won’t. But by keeping the conversation going they hope that a solution which will suit their company ethos and the needs of the individual staff members.
One thing is for certain, companies which ignore this seismic shift in working patterns are unlikely to be around for the next great upheaval.