HYBRID OR ‘SMART’ WORKING IS HERE TO STAY
A number of large companies have recently announced that it will be allowing their staff to continue to work remotely, even after restrictions have eased:
• Nationwide: 13,000 office staff are being allowed to work remotely • HSBC are slashing 40% of its global office space, as more people decide to work remotely. • Fujitsu have introduced a permanent remote working initiative for its 80,000 Japan based employees • Direct Insurance group have committed to a remote working policy for its 160 employees • Slack will introduce a permanent flexible working policy for the majority of its 1664 employees • PWC will now let all staff choose what times they work best, as well as allowing them to decide whether they do so in a blended way permanently. It expects employees to spend around 40% home working and 60% in its offices or client sites. As well as finishing by noon on a Friday during the summer • Google is currently preparing for a broad reopening in September, when employees will be expected to be in the office for at least three days a week (the rest of the week will be worked remotely). • Whitehall has signed a deal with serviced offices firm IWG to create 10 different co-working spaces across the UK for staff to use when not in London. The arrangements could allow up to 430,000 employees to have greater choice about where they work and when. • A recent study by Microsoft revealed that among its 4,000 staff polled, nine out of 10 employees (87%) who now work in an office and work from home say their business units have adapted to a hybrid working model.
This is reflected in the stance that my corporate clients are taking. All the companies that I talk to, from SME’s to large global organisations, report planning for a permanent form of hybrid (or smart) working, across their global offices.
WHAT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN This follows a number of surveys that have found, in most cases, that over 50% of staff still want to work from home after restrictions have eased, allowing them to control how they balance their work and home lives.
Whilst homeworking doesn’t suit everyone, depending on their personal circumstances, or indeed every task, it is being recognised that a new approach is needed. Nationwide’s survey of its staff discovered that only 6% wanted to work in an office permanently, with just over a third (36%) wanting a blended work experience. Their Future of work report found (90%) of people already working from home said they wanted to continue doing so at least one day a week, with six in 10 (60%) claiming it gives them a better work-life balance. Furthermore, a survey of 1,000 employees by Eskenzi PR found 91% would prefer to have the option to work remotely.
It is interesting, that it is only now that we have reached the anniversary of Covid 19, that the shift of employee expectations is being recognised and embraced by some, in a way that I can’t imagine happening after just three months of homeworking.
HOW TO CREATE THE RIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN HOME AND OFFICE WORKING?
The most common reasons being cited for the new hybrid working model are: • Autonomy • Improved work life balance • Improve productivity for focused tasks It is being recognised that how we do our jobs is much more important than where we do them from. The ability to choose the right location for the task of the day is creating a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy for the employee, something we may have got used to during the homeworking stage. Studies have shown homeworking to increase productivity levels for focused work and certainly, those I talk to, report working harder than ever. However, on the downside, the increased level of work intensity is leading to mental and physical fatigue, particularly if there is a struggle to find a suitable private work space in their home. There is also the issue of the effect it is having on our back health, from unsuitable setups, or often the reduction in exercise (the commute at least built-in regular exercise, and we tend to move around more in the office). In summary, the most commonly cited advantages and disadvantages of working from home are as below:
• Lack of commute (less stress and more time) • Can build in exercise regularly (ie standing, walking, squats, crazy breaks)
• Increased productivity for focused work
• Ability to do zoom calls without disturbing others
• Work life balance
• Chance to work smarter not harder
• Ability to choose own working environment
DISADVANTAGES • Lack of commute (less exercise) • Harder for collaborative and creative work • Space dependent o Privacy issues in shared spaces o Less suitable workstation set ups in restricted spaces • Harder to separate work and home life • Personality dependent (some suit busier environments) • Work can feel more intense • Higher risk of back pain from unsuitable work set ups
THE NEW OFFICE With the above in mind, the office is being recognised as critical for creative and collaborative work, for mixing with your colleagues, and the mental and physical health benefits that also provides. There is also the concern of engagement and culture. It is all a case of finding the right balance, be it for home or office working. The pros and cons will differ according to the individual’s role, personality, and personal home circumstances (environmental and social). This is why the hybrid approach is so complex and a delicate balance between organisational and personal needs. It needs a bespoke goldilocks approach. So many companies are taking steps to make the office more attractive to work in, to actively encourage workers to come in. Some traditional companies, such as law firms, are even planning on including a scheme to bring your dogs to work (somewhere for all those new puppies to reside!). I certainly have been witnessing reports of a long-needed change in office design. One that blends a traditional office space with the comforts that you would normally find at home, like sofas and lounge areas. Whilst offices haven’t gone away, there may now be an emphasis on ensuring that they are suited to a new work culture when employees have the flexibility and choice that they are used to in the home The hot desking is likely to be here to stay now, to accommodate the new flexible way of working, but private spaces are going to be important, for those online meetings or for focused work. New team spaces will be required, to facilitate the meetings and work that employees may be specifically travelling into the office for.
What is clear is that there will no longer be a cookie cutter approach. It is all about finding the best approach to suit the individual and the job role. It may therefore be a case of creating spaces, that for the moment, are as flexible as possible, allowing people the autonomy or ability to find right decision for them (within the confines of the environment and culture). People expect to return to offices that are safe, provide them with a sense of belonging where they can be productive, comfortable and have a greater sense of control over where and how they work. I don’t think organisations will be able to create the perfect solution straight away, but the ability to remain agile in their approach will be key, as workers return and adapt to the new workplace and our new way of working evolves, hopefully a blend of the best of the old and new.
A FOCUS ON WELLBEING The focus has also increased on the employer’s responsibility for their employee’s wellbeing. There certainly seems to be an increased awareness to provide employee online wellbeing benefits packages including ergonomics, exercise, personal training, nutritional and wellbeing classes. Inspired Ergonomics, for one, takes a 360o approach to its ergonomic programs, addressing the complex needs of each individuals we talk to, creating a personalised road map for recovery which, as well as ergonomics at the core. During our assessments and workshops, we ensure the person is also exercising, eating well and getting support, if needed, for their mental health. It is all interlinked, not only as a root cause for back pain, but mental and physical health generally.
Here at Inspired Ergonomics, we have a broad range of ergonomic services, covering all aspects of the above, to optimise the health and wellbeing of your staff as they continue to work from home or return to the office. Never has support been more important as we continue to have to adjust to a new way of living. A proactive approach to your own wellbeing is key, with education at the heart of this. Contact us for more information or to set a time to call at www.inspiredergonomics.com