When organisations up and down the country had to react to the instruction from Government to ‘Work from Home’ where possible, there was of course a huge change to the ways in which so many had traditionally worked.
For many, the shift to remote working was transformational – particularly for those in sectors where previously it hadn’t been thought possible.
Of course, this change was borne out of necessity – but it brought many benefits – not least to work/life balance thanks to increased flexibility in the working week.
That is not to say it was without its challenges, either, with some feeling isolated, without cohesion within their teams and with increased stress and pressure going unnoticed.
Previously, where flexible working was once considered on a case-by-case basis – or even considered a perk – it is now seen as essential for attracting and retaining talent. However, with such a tough recruitment market, how do you find the right balance of flexibility that works for everyone?
“Pre-pandemic we were more traditional in our approach”
For Carrie Westwell, Director of People & Culture at regeneration business, Peel L&P, the last two years have shifted the firm’s approach to flexible working.
“Pre-pandemic we were probably quite traditional in our approach and like lots of other organisations we took the Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five approach,” she explained.
“Since then, we’ve gone through a huge change. Although we always had a flexibility policy in place as a business, we’ve now gone one step further and adopted an agile working policy, which gives people the ability to work from where it's best for them, for whatever they're doing on that day."
“So, some of that can be homeworking, but it also could mean working from one of our many workspaces that we have around different parts of the UK. For us that that change has really meant people being able to embrace their working day and think about where they need to be to get the most out of it.”
Westwell explained that one of the firm’s biggest challenges was making sure the new approach was not restrictive for any colleagues and that it considered the many different types of roles within Peel L&P.
“We have lots of different businesses within Peel doing lots of different activities,” she continued. “Some people are based out on site, some serving customers, some are more predominantly office-based, so we really can't have one fixed approach. So, our agile working policy is much more fluid in that sense, with things discussed on both a one-to-one and a team basis to make them work for everyone.”
“We learnt that humans are best when they have the most amount of control, certainty, and autonomy over how they live their lives”
A completely flexible approach to where employees work from has also been taken by Zenith, who’s Chief People Officer, Stuart Price, explained how consulting a neuroscientist helped the fleet management provider put its policy in place
“Where 100% of our people worked from home throughout the lockdowns, we did a large study of work where we talked to colleagues about what they wanted to see when we unlocked,” he explained.
“We also worked with a neuroscientist to put some science behind what our people were telling us and be confident that what we were doing was right. Through this we learnt that humans are best when they have the most amount of control, certainty, and autonomy over how they live their lives – which applied to work as well. So, when we looked at creating our new policy, we wanted to make sure people had that choice.”
“And so, we came to the decision that our employees can choose where, when and how they do their work, providing they can service the customer, their team isn't negatively affected, and it works for them.”
Price explained that the new policy has made the organisation think differently about the social aspect of working together – and how it uses its office spaces.
“At Zenith we’ve always has office environments that are collaborative and interesting, and I think that’s why people missed being there so much during the pandemic,” he said.
“But now, with our new policy and no requirement for people to have to be in the office, we’ve really had to ask ourselves what is its purpose? And what do we want it for? I mean, you’ve got to give people a different reason to come in now. We did some interesting stuff just as we were coming out of lockdown, where we invited all of the people we employed during the pandemic – over 150 – to come for a networking event and meet each other."
“It was really nice, and it made people realise that, actually, this is a really important part of work. And so, with that, people decided they’d come into the office more and we started seeing people come back.”
“The company is much more open”
For the hospitality industry, the nature of the work has historically meant that flexibility in a role could be limited. However, Jill Scatchard, HR Director at Oakman Inns, explained that the organisation has recognised the need to change stereotypical ways of working to give employees more options with their careers.
“We’re definitely moving towards much more flexible contracts and opportunities for people, and the company itself is much more open,” she explained.
“We've moved to four-day working for some of our full-time chefs, where pre-pandemic it was five days a week. Traditionally, they had to be there for key shifts, whereas now it’s a lot more collaborative. For example, where we can accommodate a four-day working week, if that’s what someone’s requesting, then we make sure we have the team and a rota in place that is able to adapt to that.”
Oakman Inns has also found that taking learning and development opportunities online has made for a much more inclusive training environment, thanks to employees not having to travel to a central site. This, Scatchard said, means some elements brought about by the pandemic have been more beneficial since going digital.
“Particularly for our leadership teams, enabling learning in this way has been useful. We’ve now got a mix of some things where people should come together again and others where it suits our workplace better to be open and inclusive and to have access to training wherever they are.”
“We don't want people in an office to keep an eye on them, we want them to come in so we can help them succeed”
Trust and flexibility are integral to the hybrid working policy adopted by leading audit, tax, and consulting firm, RSM UK. Chief Executive Officer, Rob Donaldson, explained that the decision to move to hybrid came from canvassing opinion from employees and making sure that they are empowered to work in the environment that is most effective for them.
“We've embraced hybrid working and we trust people to work wherever it's most effective,” he explained. “Sometimes, that’s going to be face-to-face, when people need to collaborate, teach, learn or develop and sometimes that’s going to be at home when they need to focus, create, and concentrate.”
He explained that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach simply would not work for the business, its people and its learning and development programmes. Instead, the hybrid approach it has taken means it now uses its office space differently, and for maximum benefit.
“Our offices are really important, they’re a part of the glue that holds us together,” he said. “We take in 750 trainees each year, both graduates and school leavers, and we need to help them learn and grow. And we think a lot of that growth comes from being together and absorbing knowledge from people around you – watching, listening, and learning."
“We don't want people in an office to keep an eye on them, we want them to come in so we can help them succeed. We love hybrid working and it's here to stay, it’s just about balance.”