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What do we do next? Flexible working, Covid in the workplace, Controlling bob…

Posted about 2 months ago by Amy Frost

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‘What is that business down the road doing?’

‘How have they managed to reopen the office?’

‘Why isn’t ‘so and so’ back in the workplace yet?’

My top 3 questions on any client call with an HR leader trying to work their way through the next stages of our dear pal ‘rona.

I feel like we could take some of the lessons from the body confidence hype you see all over Insta nowadays into the corporate world. ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like, everybody is different and as long as you stay healthy you just find what works for you’…or something close to the sort.

There’s definitely a certain fear about how we progress to the next stage of the evolution of work (was going to say the taboo phrase ‘new normal’ but a wise woman posted that it’s the most salesy, recruiter thing to say…thanks for the heads up Lauren!). A fear that you should be doing what everyone else is doing. A fear that what works for Company A down the road doesn’t fit your needs so will you be seen as the bad guys if you can’t offer what they can? A fear that you’ll be too flexible, and lose the team bond, or you won’t be flexible enough and lose talent to a more agile competitor.

I’ve decided to write this blog to simply offer market insight on the 4 main challenges that I’ve collated from working throughout lockdown and supporting clients through this journey.

We’ve had weekly HR Forum’s providing a safe place for HR leaders to share best practice and challenges, HR Academies focusing on everything from Furlough, Mental Health & Wellbeing, Health & Safety to Return to Work and are currently hosting a 5 part event series on how to optimise business performance through HR best practice as we navigate these new times (again, conscious effort not to use that taboo phrase).

From hosting such events and having the privilege of being so close to these businesses through such strange times, I’ve noticed a pattern and some key trends in what companies are doing in the next phase.

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Disclaimer: This blog is just outlining the trends I have spotted and will absolutely not work for every business but will hopefully give you a better understanding of what other people are planning and give you the confidence in your own strategies.


Flexibility

Hallelujah! I hear my HR pals shout, it might have only taken us a global pandemic but we’ve finally got the bosses taking this flexible working malarkey seriously! Then the dreaded questions start to sink in,

but what IS flexible working?

Do we offer them a change in start and finish times?

Do we offer working remotely?

How often should someone be able to work remotely?

Will it jeopardise the culture not having our big personalities about as much?

What if the office burns down and its weeks before anyone knows because we’ve said they can work from home?

...and breathe.

Here are the 4 main trends I’m seeing from businesses in the Midlands with regards to remote/flexible working:

  • Work from home with no office access until either September 2020 or January 2021 and then 2-3 days a week from home thereafter

  • Halved office capacity forever and encouraging workforce to work from home for half a week to enjoy a better work/life balance

  • Phased return with alternating employees. The motives for this seem to either be to protect social distancing measures or help mental wellbeing whilst employees process the change again

  • Create core working hours between 10am-3pm and allow the other hours to be dictated by the employee (location varies depending on client but there is a common theme of still encouraging 2 days a week working from home)

Disclaimer number 2: I know these techniques won’t work for manufacturing operators where working from home is impossible, this blog is definitely geared towards office workers (and that includes customer service centres…turns out it is possible to answer calls from your home, who’d have thunk?)


Equipment

Now this is going to be a bit of a stinger when it comes to finances for businesses.

Most blue chips seem to be able to offer employees work phones, laptops, desks and chairs to make sure they are fully equipped to get the job done remotely.

However, I appreciate this isn’t the same for everyone. As an SME, here at Macildowie, we all have remote access to our server and have been making good use of the dining chairs over the last 12 weeks, and you know what…it works!

Work phones in many opinions are seen to be non-negotiable to be provided by the employer so as not to breach GDPR if the employee has a duty to be on the phone. However, if you’re looking to halve your office capacity, what’s stopping you from allowing some employees to take the desk chairs home, it will certainly save you a whole heap in expense claims if you are wishing to offer a proper office set up fully expensed. This is definitely a factor that will need to be considered before formally changing your flexible working policy.


New Covid-19 cases

‘Umm boss…Karen’s just tested positive for the coronavirus and she was in the office this morning…’ cue the internal freak out.

None of us can afford to have the entire office fall sick to this down right awful virus, as an employer you have a duty to protect the health & wellbeing of the workforce, not to mention the danger that the business will collapse.

This has been a really interesting point in the HR Forum discussions. Some views started with having a designated person in the team to volunteer to clean the workstation of the infected employee…but can you really ask your employees to volunteer to put themselves and their family at an immediate risk when their previous experience of cleaning has been to go top to bottom on their home with a packet of Dettol wipes? (can you tell I’m a rookie?) What about the kitchen? Did the employee make a coffee that day? Canteen? Meeting rooms? Toilets? Unless you’re a very very small team or insist on each employee to wear a GPS tracking device when they enter the building, it’s near impossible to know where the virus may be lurking, and certainly not a responsibility you should be putting on anyone but a professional cleaner.

It’s so important to have built connections with professional cleaning teams to demonstrate to your staff that you are taking this seriously and have processes in place to protect them from this deadly virus. If you are a business that is agile enough, the favoured response from the Forum’s seemed to be to ask the workforce to work from home for 48 hours whilst you get the professional cleaners in to do a deep clean of every area. If this isn’t viable, then you must have a professional cleaner on site and track the steps of the employees as best as you possibly can and instruct the remaining workforce to stay clear of said areas until they have been dealt with accordingly. 


Trust

Last, but by no means least, this is the hard one. Most candidates I have spoken to over the last few weeks have openly stated they trust their employer to do the right thing. Communication has been lifted (in the most part) to ensure that employees know the measures the business is taking to protect them on their return to the workplace (if you haven’t communicated this, stop reading this blog and do it now. Please.) which for the most part, seems detailed and assured.

Unfortunately, the resistance to returning to the office lies within the trust of their co-workers. Yes, the business will have new measures in place to ensure their safety. Yes, this individual will adhere to social distancing rules and new policies…but what about Bob? Coronavirus’ number 1 conspiracy theorist who doesn’t know anyone personally that’s had it and thinks it’s a government plot?

(Disclaimer number 3: I am aware everything in that sentence is a load of tosh and I do not know Bob)

But what if some colleagues don’t take the threat of the virus as seriously?

Don’t follow the arrows you put on the floor in the office and look straight past all those posters you spent a whole afternoon putting up. Someone that is SO EXCITED to see you after 4 months that they creep up behind and wrap you in a bear hug before you’ve even realised their presence. This is a huge factor in why a lot of people are resisting going back to the office.

A method we have seen work well is having designated ‘Covid Supervisors’ who support colleagues and challenge those who don’t seem to be adhering to the new policies. It’s important that this is a group of peers and senior members of staff. Oh, by the way, if your Senior Leaders don’t follow the rules, then you can absolutely guarantee that most other people won’t and your ‘Covid Supervisors’ will end up being belittled and shot down every single time they try to do what’s right. So please make sure the senior team are fully on board with the plan and can lead by example.


On that note, I think we’ve just about covered it. Well, covered the 4 main topics I’m talking about each day anyway, we’re only scratching the surface of the challenges that are about to be thrown our way I’m sure.

Thanks so much for staying with my blog and getting to the end of it. It’s a tough time to open yet another article on the world’s most famous subject and work your way to the end of it, so I appreciate the commitment. Next time I’ll post something about that time on Zoom when a client’s child came in with all their pants on their head to cheer things up a bit!

But for now…Stay Alert, Control Bob, Save your business.

If you do want to get in touch to make sure you have the right skillset in your business, then please drop me a line at amyf@macildowie.com.

Ciao!