Many firms uncertain over implementing hybrid working, research finds

By Caitlin Powell

Experts urge employers to act before lockdown restrictions are fully lifted, and warn businesses that fail to consult employees over changes face ‘ticking time bomb’

British businesses are uncertain about how they will implement hybrid working, according to a recent survey, but intend to consult their staff on how they would prefer to return to work after Covid restrictions are lifted.

A poll of 528 business leaders between May and June by Ellis Whittam found nearly half (46 per cent) of businesses were still undecided on how to coordinate a hybrid working approach across their workforces.

This figure increased to almost three in five (58 per cent) among large organisations with 150 or more employees.

A third (33 per cent) of all business polled said it would be up to individual departments to decide which days they worked from the office.

Despite the uncertainty over how hybrid working would be implemented, the survey found high levels of senior support. More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of all organisations believed they had a senior team who fully supported hybrid working.

And more than four in five (81 per cent) businesses had already consulted or were planning to consult with staff about their preferences for post-pandemic working once restrictions were lifted, with almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of these firms saying their consultation would play a “significant part” in informing their approach.

However, 7 per cent said they had already consulted but that opinion was so divided among their workforce it hasn’t helped inform their approach.

James Tamm, director of legal services at Ellis Whittam, said although it was still unclear when the last of the Covid restrictions would finally be dropped, employers could still start preparing their workforce. “All businesses considering making hybrid working part of their normal working pattern must act now,” he said.

But, Tamm warned, firms that failed to consult their workforces were creating a “ticking time bomb”. “It may well create problems in terms of employees resisting contractual changes as well as general disputes. This could potentially even result in resignations from staff that don’t get their way,” he said.

Joshua Karl, director of Trusted People HR, highlighted the important role that managers would play in forming and rolling out any HR policies, and suggested the use of pulse surveys to allow managers to make specific arrangements for individual members of staff.

Managers should “have a conversation [with their staff] and keep it simple”, Karl said, adding that this was an opportunity to demonstrate authentic inclusive leadership. Hybrid working required planning and good communication, and employers would do well to allow time for a transition period and more flexibility, he said.

Stephanie Robinson, director of HR consultancy at Ellis Whittam and Law At Work, also recommended firms took the time to consult their staff. “It shows that you are a listening employer, determined to do the right thing for your employees, and interested in how they want to work post-pandemic,” she said.

“If senior individuals within the business view hybrid working as an engagement tool, understand the links to high-performance working, and are more open to agility and evolution, they are far more likely to promote this approach within a wider workforce, making successful implementation more likely”, Robinson added.

This article is originally posted in People Management.

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