What should we be doing now as an organisation to prepare for hybrid working once restrictions are eased further?Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 7 May 2021
Scott: "So what should we be doing now as an organisation to prepare for hybrid working once restrictions are eased somewhat further?"
Seamus: I think that where we're at, at the minute, is the government's message at this time is still, "If you can work from home, you should work from home". That is going to change over the next lot of weeks. We know that on 24 May restrictions are going to ease again, and government have said that there will be a gradual return to the office. Certainly, in England, they're talking around end of June time for that.
I'm aware of some big, multinational employers in Northern Ireland that are calling for the staff to look forward and to advise them if they would like to return to the office . . . they're almost taking a poll of their staff to see if they would like to, and talking around things like how they'd like 20% to 25% of staff to return to the office between June and September. So it's definitely a factor. It's definitely there.
You know the situation as well. Some people really love working from home. It's the way that they want to continue to work from home. Others don't like it and want to get back to the office. Then there's this hybrid aspect where people are saying, "Well, I could work in the office couple of days a week, maybe two, but I'd like to continue working from home for three days. I get more done at home. There's less distraction, and I have flexibility and all of those things".
In terms of steps that we need to take, I think the immediate steps need to be in and around risk assessing and seeing what the position is as regards the facilities in the office to keep social distancing in place.
I think there also needs to be a business risk assessment. You need to determine if there are roles that should be prioritised for returning to the workplace. Are there certain roles or aspects that you're saying, "They need to come back sooner, and they need to be the first people that come back"?
Identify those employees that need to continue to work from home in the short term because they're vulnerable or they have on-going health conditions or they're undertaking caring responsibilities. We know that the summertime is coming up. Children are going to be coming back out of school again.
Again, calculate your safe office occupancy levels in order to maintain social distancing within the office.
But I think, importantly, it's about communicating with the staff. It's about communicating with your employees and putting together a plan. "Who's going to work from the office? Who's going to work from home? Do we need to change the way we do things in work? Are we going to have certain days where this is the sort of work that we're going to do? Are our meetings going to take place on certain days of the week and we're going to use our other time for other activities?"
It's important to consult with the employees and their trade unions where you need to and look at a plan for returning to the workplace and encouraging the staff also to raise any queries or issues that they have.
A big part of it is for the employer to listen to the employees and to hear what they have to say. It has been a period of flux, and there will be issues, and there will be a big change for people coming back out of working from home into the office again. So it's about taking all of that on board, listening to what the employees have to say, consulting with them, and looking at prioritising what the business needs are.
Scott: Okay. Thank you very much, Seamus. I suppose we really just have to decide why we need to go into the office and use those reasons as the ones for going in. You don't have to be in the office to answer emails. It should be maybe, "We're going to be creative today. We're going to have our team meetings. We're going to do whatever, assuming it's safe".
I think we all have to look at that, and that means that forcing people in when they really don't want to go in and when there are other organisations that aren't going to force them, it just means that you're going to end up losing staff over time. It's a big HR issue just about the thing.
But look, if 90% of people are saying, "We can work hybridly", and 90% of people go ahead with that, then we're all in the same boat, so that's fantastic.
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