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Making the most of flexibility

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Feb 2022

Successfully managing a hybrid working model can support your diversity and inclusion initiatives, help you attract more job candidates and enhance productivity and engagement, says Liz Sebag-Montefiore.

Government guidance to work from home has been lifted in England and Scotland, but lockdown and furlough have changed the workforce and the way we work; employee expectations are for a more flexible model. Research from YouGov and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has shown that, post-pandemic, most employees would prefer a balance where they are in the office for some of the week and at home for the remainder, known as hybrid working.

Research analysing 20 million applications found that jobs with clear, flexible working options could attract up to 30% more applicants than those without such choice. Smart employers will look for ways to make the return to the office palatable. Flexible working is a vital tool for attracting and retaining quality applicants, especially in a competitive marketplace characterised by skills shortages and changing employee priorities.

Reshape the workplace

Lockdown afforded employee-centred leaders a chance to reshape the workplace and reimagine work to accommodate changed professional and personal responsibilities and aspirations.

Hybrid working can support your diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda, as improved workplace flexibility can open up opportunities to those who prefer not to work a traditional 9-5 day. For working parents and those with caring responsibilities, such arrangements are a boon. However, the hybrid model must be managed sensitively or it may lead to challenges regarding employees working remotely not being sufficiently included, recognised or having equal employee voice.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; every employee will have their own preferences for future working patterns, so you may need to experiment with a range of solutions to address diverse needs and concerns. The CIPD recommends that you consider:

  • what work patterns individuals would prefer after the pandemic;
  • whether employees can meet various policy requirements long term, such as health and safety or data security procedures, and whether they have a suitable space in which to work at home; and
  • whether individuals have the necessary equipment or technology to work in a continuously hybrid way after the pandemic.

Connectivity at work

Consultancy BCG found that employees satisfied with social connectivity at work are, on average, 2.5 times as likely to say that their productivity is at least as high now as it was before the pandemic. Bear in mind that some managers may benefit from training to help them build skills in online communication, coaching, engagement, and management of remote and hybrid teams.

Discuss and agree arrangements for remote working. How often does the team need to meet, and for what purpose? When should meetings be online and when should they be in person? Discuss primary communication channels for particular purposes, agree on a platform for online meetings and for messaging. Check that everyone knows how to use and exploit these platforms’ advanced features.

Do the same with collaboration tools and processes for sharing working arrangements and locations. Agree how diaries and files will be shared and accessed, including the use of project status updates and how to plan sharing work tasks and timing, locations and hours. Employees must be able to make effective decisions about workflow scheduling. Ensure that everyone feels included, is kept informed and has an active voice. 

Work smarter

We are all familiar and more comfortable with online meetings now and managers need to be able to confidently facilitate inclusive and effective meetings, especially when some team members attend in person and others attend online. Ensure users are familiar with useful features such as check-in systems, break-out rooms, online polling and quizzes, shared screens and virtual ‘hand-raising’.

When people work remotely, assessing their performance may be less straightforward, so be clear on objectives and deliverables. Concentrate on desired results and outcomes as the main metric for performance. Provide well-targeted objectives and ensure regular and timely feedback; this is particularly important in a hybrid environment.

Assessing well-being is also more difficult when working remotely, so do schedule regular one-to-one meetings with each team member, online or in person. Also, don’t forget to allow time for social connection – while working from home is popular, many miss informal contact with colleagues. When you can’t use in-person meetings, you can create online social spaces for informal conversations and activities.

Hybrid work is part of our new reality and affords interesting opportunities to reduce property costs, enhance productivity and engagement and negotiate new working patterns and flexible workplaces.

Liz Sebag-Montefiore is director and co-founder of 10Eighty, a specialist provider of career coaching

Click here for ICAEW’s Diversity and inclusion hub where we offer a range of equity, diversity and inclusion content, from topical articles on chartered accountancy to professional resources to help you thrive at work.

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