Work from Home, Work from the office – five questions for trustees to think about hybrid working

For trustees of many organisations helping staff to navigate their path back to work as we move through the pandemic will be a significant challenge. One key area to think about will be people’s desire to explore hybrid working so they can get the benefits of working both in the office and at home.

A woman wearing a phone headset sat at a computer working from home with a window in the background with pink curtains and plants in pots.

We will all be ‘building back better’ and living in ‘the new normal’. After 18 months where staff have discovered some of the joys (and the pitfalls) of working from home, and as organisations asses if they really need all that expensive office space we are going to see a rise in hybrid working where staff work partly at home and partly in the office. This blog will give trustees some questions to ponder as they decide a way forward.

1.    Is it right for the organisation?

Home working or Hybrid working will not be suitable for all organisations. Where it isn’t you need to have a clear justification for why it is not possible in case you are asked by staff, you also have to ensure that all staff are treated fairly, but this does not mean there can not be different rules for different roles. But in the case of much desk bound work hybrid working should be considered. Simply because you as trustees or the senior manager don’t like it and are not familiar with it is not a reason to insist on everyone being in the office.  

Ann Francke, the chief executive of the CMI, argues that the most successful models of working will be the most flexible ones. “Command and control isn’t the way we work now, the pandemic has knocked presenteeism on its head. Work should be output-focused – about what you do, not where you do it,”.

There is a good chance you will, or have, been asked about hybrid working, and if you haven’t you might well be. It makes much more sense to speak to staff and have a clear proactive answer for when the question comes. And at the same time there are many benefits to choosing a hybrid model. These could include

  • Increased efficiency – staff are judged on their results rather than on their behaviour – they no longer have to ‘look busy’ when the manager is around but set out to achieve their objectives in their own time. This instils trust in staff and gives them a sense of self-motivation; it will lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced absence and turnover rates
  • A reduction in costs – With fewer staff in the office at any given time, less office space is required, this will also reduce other on costs associated with being in the office. It’s not just the charity that will save money, either. Staff will see big savings on daily commuting, as well as potential savings on food expenses and those on-the-go coffees.
  • Improved well-being – Allowing staff to work from home helps them prioritise their wellbeing and family. It’s a chance to focus on staff morale and ensure they have everything they need to work at their best.

2.    Is it right for the staff?

Commissioned by London-based startup YuLife, a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults looked into workplace wellbeing. It found that four in five (79%) of those who could work remotely would like to do so at least two days per week.

According to the Charted Institute of Management (CMI) 48% of managers feared that team members would quit if they could no longer work remotely.  People have got a taste of remote working and many like it. But not all do, many find it isolating and may not live somewhere conducive to working from home.

If you as an organisation have decided to move down the hybrid working route you must do this in partnership with the staff. It is highly likely that any change from an office based model to a hybrid model will involve a change in people’s contracts, as such you need to consult with them about the change.

Hybrid working will not suit everyone, you need to be flexible and understand different positions.

3.    Do we mandate a number of days in the office and other procedural stuff?

The research from the CMI found that about half of managers expected staff to be in the office two to three days a week, but experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all model for hybrid working. While some companies are insisting on a set number of days a week in the office, or even full-time if you work for Goldman Sachs, others such as Tui are stipulating a minimum of one day a month.

At the same time it is essential that you work out travel and expenses policies

  • For travel, where can staff claim mileage? From their or the office to their destination, and what about travel to the office?
  • Are you going to pay a working from home allowance towards costs such as heating and internet etc?
  • Who will pay for kit that is needed at home? Will this also include special kit for those that may have a disability?
  • What about insurance for any of your equipment that is used at home, do staff have to include this in their insurance?

On top of this you will need to decide if certain staff or teams are in the office together. Are there enough desks and if not do you need a booking system and will there be a space for staff to store personal items. How will rules differ for part time staff, especially if you stipulating minimum days in the office, will these be pro rata?

Hybrid working is probably not the easiest option, but it will be the one that has the potential to reap the greatest rewards. There will be lots of issues that you need to work out including manning the phone, sorting the post and looking after the building if you have one. You will be unlikely to get all these things right straight away and the hybrid working arrangements should be reviewed on a regular basis.

4.    How do we make sure people are working safely?

You will need to consider how and where people are working when they are at home. You retain a duty of care to staff but obviously you are more reliant on them completing their own assessment of their working environment. You should look to check each staff members home working environment, this can be done remotely or online. It is also important that you are clear with staff about safe home working, both with regard to their physical workspace but also with regard to not meeting clients or contacts at home etc.

When setting up home work spaces you need to think about reasonable adjustments and providing equipment, this could be proper seats, laptop stands, foot rests etc. there has to be a clear agreement with staff about how your equipment is used and that it remains the property of the organisation.

As well as physical safety it is important that you consider data and digital security. As staff work from home and move from one place to another there is an increased risk of data breaches. All staff must be aware of your data protection policy and taking all steps to reduce the risk of accidental data breaches, this includes not letting any family members use work IT equipment, and staff not using work equipment for personal use.

Finally make sure that any of your equipment is insured, either through your policy or through staff members home policy. Many insurers extended cover for IT to include home use at the start of the pandemic but for most this was a temporary change and has come to an end. Check with your provider.

5.    Do people have the skills?

Hybrid working will involve new skills, this will include

  • learning new ways to communicate,
  • being more organised
  • increasing our flexibility and resourcefulness
  • learning to use new software

But perhaps the biggest learning curve will be for managers without a doubt a hybrid worker’s most important asset will be a good manager. As Ann Franke states the days of command and control are over, managers will need empathy and emotional intelligence. There will be a need for more collaboration, greater trust and space for staff to find their own best way to achieving shared outcomes.

As trustees it is essential that you promote, encourage and model good management practices. How you behave will filter down to all the staff and it may be that management training is need for trustees as well as staff.

Hybrid working will be a journey for all involved and it is essential that you give the space, the tools and the resources to ensure that the whole organisation is able to travel together to the ‘New Normal’.

Conclusions

Hybrid working should be better for staff giving them improved work/life balance and improving mental health.

It will be better for the planet if commuting is reduced (but for those of us who commute by bike it will be worse for our waistline).

It will take work but it will also help to increase productivity.

We need to ensure that we are taking people on a shared journey and that we build trust and collaboration.

We will need to invest in skills as well as in the equipment and software that enable hybrid working.


1 thought on “Work from Home, Work from the office – five questions for trustees to think about hybrid working

  1. Following a networking session with a couple of colleagues I think it is also important that there is some thought given to how hybrid working might impact on organisational culture. Staff not seeing each other will make a difference and it is essential that time and effort are put into building a positive culture. This may not be exactly the same as the ‘olden days’ but by building trusts and finding ways for people to engage online and in person it is possible to build an organisational culture that is supportive and nurturing as well as giving space for people to take their own initiative and try new things.

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