Post-pandemic, hybrid working has become the new normal for many. Employers must review their working arrangements for their employees to ensure they are fit for purpose.
As well as focusing on maintaining profits, employers should prioritise employee well-being when considering your hybrid working structure. What key changes can business leaders and HR professionals make to ensure their teams stay connected in a hybrid working environment?
New approaches to tackling the work environment always bring unique challenges. Businesses are often keen to pursue them as they can generate opportunities for both employers and employees. Many organisations have been sceptical of hybrid working structures in the past. The pandemic has proved that employees can be just as productive when working remotely -compared to a solely office-based work environment, but maintaining this over the longer term requires some changes.
As we see the transition of remote working into more hybrid formats, maintaining high productivity levels remains important. Managers need to focus on managing outputs rather than inputs. Incentivising staff with key targets and rewards is important, pushing employees to work smarter.
- Business as usual
- Temporary pivoter
These categories can be used to establish a starting position. They require hybrid working to be applied differently, and therefore the outcomes should be different as a result.
It is important never to forget how vital employee feedback is when considering what working approach to adopt. Seek feedback from employees on the flexibility and approach they wish to adopt moving forward. This allows everybody’s voice to be heard. Some employees may now feel that they do not need or want to return to the office full time. This is because working remotely has created a better work/life balance for them. This feedback may push business owners out of their comfort zones and challenge their preconceptions.
However, employers should also bear in mind that trust is key. If they promise to take employees’ views into account, they must respond constructively to the results. In the interest of transparency, they should also share the anonymised overview.
Working from home has often been viewed as a luxury to many in the past. It was once only available to more senior members of staff. The lockdowns have demonstrated that many employees can work just as effectively from home without the requirement to be in the office.
Many organisations have become more agile than ever by implementing processes early on in the pandemic; such as:
- Effective file sharing
- Online meetings
- Daily check-ins
- Online platforms for collaborative working
Organisations that implemented these processes early on have grown to become more agile than ever. Most employers believe it would be counterproductive to revert to how things were. Instead, organisations should view this time as an opportunity to adopt new practices and support employees. This will help drive the business forward more inclusively and collaboratively.
It is important to consider how staff can continue to collaborate effectively. The two main drivers of long term productivity are creativity and innovation. These appear most effective when teams meet in person and work in a collaborative space to boost output. This is driving a revolution in workplace design, emphasising collaboration over ‘desk work’.
Create Efficient Workspaces
This directly influences the productivity of staff and can aid concentration. Employers can aid this productivity by ensuring that individuals have access to helpful advice, the appropriate equipment, and technology to meet their needs at home. In the office, we are seeing allocated desks being replaced with a smaller number of ‘bookable’ ones for those coming to the office on any specific day. This hot desking method allows a fair system for those wanting to return to the office without excluding anyone.
Employers will also want to look at how their employees can efficiently utilise their time in the office. For example, marketing agencies may want to prioritise time in the office for pitch development and mind mapping. Other employers may want to bring their employees together for knowledge-sharing or interactive training opportunities.
Sometimes the little office social interactions can be missed, such as those all-important ‘water cooler moments. Managers need to continue encouraging employees to socialise as a team for those working remotely and in the office. For employers with solely remote-working employees, prioritising one-on-one discussions can help keep them connected to the business, up to date on office affairs and feel included in the wider team environment.
Safety In The Work Environment
All employers are responsible for ensuring each employee has a safe working environment. This applies to both staff that are working in the office or remotely. All the usual rules apply when it comes to protecting their health and safety.
To help establish a safe hybrid working environment, employers should discuss with their staff whether home working is a suitable option and look to carry out the necessary risk and workstation assessments to ensure that suitable arrangements are put in place. There may also be provisions in the employment contract dealing with benefits and expenses. Some of the company’s savings in running their offices should be reinvested to ensure staff at home are safe, happy, and productive.
This may include covering additional costs for a WiFi upgrade, if necessary, as well as required equipment, such as:
- Laptop stands
- Office appropriate chairs
- Extra monitors
Providing this equipment is required to enable the individual to perform their services, and the property remains the property of the employer, and private use is purely incidental to this, a taxable benefit in kind should not apply.
The tax position on working from home payments and claims is less certain following the end of compulsory lockdowns. From April 2022, we have reverted to the previous rules and employees can only claim relief where they are required to work from home and there is no business premises available to them, i.e. remote working is compulsory, rather than a choice. This is a high bar to clear and most employees will not meet the conditions required for a claim. The conditions required for an employer to make payments for an employee working from home are less onerous and therefore it is possible for an employer to make tax-free payments even if the employee would not be entitled to claim tax relief if the employer did not pay. However, following the changes in working patterns and even the location of employee homes following lockdown, HM Revenue & Customs officers appear to be struggling to adopt a consistent approach when reviewing arrangements. There is uncertainty about when payments will qualify for favourable tax treatment and when they will not. We therefore recommend advice be taken before formalising a home-working policy.
There may also be contractual issues to consider. For contracts of employment that do not provide for the place of work to be ‘home’, employers need to consider what changes to terms should be agreed with hybrid and home workers to protect them against any liability.
For example, it may be wise for business owners to establish a ‘homeworking policy’, where the employer’s expectations and standards are set out clearly. Employer’s liability and individual employee home insurance policies should also be checked to ensure there is cover for home working. For contributions towards the cost of an employee insurance policy, the employer must know the additional cost of the cover required purely for business purposes. This may be separately identified on the policy document, or perhaps dual quotes with and without the business cover so the marginal cost of the business cover can be calculated. Without this, any contribution by the employer will be taxable in the same way as additional pay.
Remote working can often make it more difficult for managers to spot when somebody may need support unless they ask for it. Employers need to implement processes that factor in regular employee check-ins to protect workforce wellbeing in a hybrid working environment.
This could include reminding employees to schedule proper breaks and encouraging all staff to disconnect outside of working hours properly and when they are on annual leave.
Following the challenges the past two years has thrown us, mental health has now been pushed to the top of the HR agenda. As workplaces transition into the ‘new normal’, this needs to remain a top priority. Building a culture that considers the continuation of hybrid working means managers need to consider individual employees’ needs, as a one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to work.
Regardless of how far they choose to go with the re-introduction of office-based working, employers and HR professionals are responsible for ensuring each worker’s needs are met. This will require considerable focus and care looking forward.
Menzies is a top 25 leading firm of accountants, finance and business advisors that operate out of a network of offices across Surrey, Hampshire and London, providing our clients with easy access and local knowledge. Described as the ‘best performing firm outside of the top 10’ by Accountancy Magazine, Menzies has over 400 employees and an annual turnover of more than £40m.