05 Oct 2021

Overcoming the return to the office challenges



This September saw large numbers of employees finally heading head back to the office, and now employers face the challenge of deciding if they will continue offering flexible working and how this will work in practice in the long term, says Adrian Lewis from Activ Absence.

Recent research from LifeSearch highlighted that  44% of British employees want some form of hybrid working, but this dropped to just 27% for over-55s, with 46% saying they would rather be full-time in the workplace and 21% preferring to be at home full-time.

Lewis says, “This survey highlights how challenging it is for businesses right now as they try to get back to some normality after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, but still want to embrace flexible ways of working. Each employee will have their own view on what works best for them and trying to accommodate everyone is going to be tricky.

“With Furlough ending, companies must decide what they want to do with staff and where they want them to work. We anticipate the next few months for employers will be spent working out how flexible ways of working can actually work in practice.”

Many companies are taking different approaches. The Bank of England Governor recently said Bank staff could work from home all week[i] after previously saying they would be expected to adopt the ‘hybrid’ model.

Goldman Sachs said in July they wanted people to return to the office full-time[ii]. And a pilot scheme is being designed by the Scottish National Party to trial a four-day working week[iii].

Elsewhere, Primark[iv] has introduced hybrid working for office-based staff returning to the workplace this month. Employees will be expected to attend the workplace for an average of three days a week, with their schedules based on individual role requirements and team level agreements.

Lewis adds, “The main challenge for employers will be managing their workforce and knowing where everyone is at any given time. Whilst the hybrid model does appear to offer the flexibility most people want, it could get complicated if everyone wants to work the same work pattern.

“Employers need HR policies and systems to keep track of staff. They will want to ensure that any new working arrangements don’t have detrimental effect on company culture, camaraderie and productivity.  Whilst the pandemic was happening it was fine short term to have remote working, but longer-term businesses may not be set up for this to work indefinitely.

“One solution  to manage hybrid working is  absence management technology because it provides real-time visibility over an entire workforce so managers can see where employees are working on any given day, as well as tracking absences such as being off sick or on holiday.

“It helps with planning too, such as booking and getting approval on annual leave and ensuring things like back to work interviews are always conducted if someone has had a sick day. With employees potentially working in lots of different places on different days, this is a great tool for keeping track.

“It looks like hybrid and flexible working are here to stay, but it is important it’s introduced properly and the business has a robust system for managing the workforce.”