A presentation to South West Provincial Council 12/3/21
Many organisations are looking at their flexible working policies and estates after having had a forced experimentation with remote working.
Some union members have enjoyed home working and extra flexibility with its potential to better manage work life balance.
Some staff have really struggled with social isolation and are looking forward to returning to the workplace.
We need to understand how to approach these reviews.
Firstly there is the issue of when?
It’s understandable that people want to start looking at policies now but it is very early to start making decisions about buildings that would be difficult to undo.
Surveys of staff attitude to home working are currently coloured by all sorts of things, not least the fear of infection. Other factors that we have to assume won’t be in play next year will include home schooling, mask wearing, social distancing and other covid secure measures that make work a less attractive place to be than it was a year ago.
I don’t know and neither do you how many people would like to work from home as a new normal. How many will want to work flexibly and how often. And how many are so traumatised by the experience of lockdown they want to move house.
Surveys suggest a very mixed and fluid picture
The only way we are going to learn this is to update our policies to allow people to make choices uninfluenced by fear or restrictions. If that leaves us with underused buildings then its time for a remodelling.
So if we are doing policies first, what are the key principles to underpin it?
Firstly we need to be clear that it will always be the responsibility of the employer to provide the employee with the means to do their job, and that includes a place to do it.
Nobody should be obliged to work from home at any time for any reason other than safety as now; and I’m hoping it will be another 100 years before the next pandemic.
There has to free choice.
There also has to be the opportunity to change your mind either way.
If staff are offered that choice and agree to take it up then they need to have all the equipment to do so safely. This remains true for staff working flexibly and there will be circumstance where some staff, particularly those with disabilities are provided with equipment for home and at work.
Where staff are required to take equipment back and forth then expectations of how this is cared for has to be reasonable. Laptops will be left in cars.
They will also be left on desks at home where other family members can see them.
Data security needs to be built in and not rely on individual vigilance.
And yes that means cafes and the like cannot be substitute workplaces, at least not beyond occasional stop offs.
There are other equalities issues too.
The decision makers tend to do jobs that are self-motivated and unsupervised. But many staff have shown that they can be trusted to work without being watched and the privilege for those that see it as such need to be extended to all.
Booking systems need to be in place so parents on the school run or others with caring responsibilities don’t find themselves with nowhere to sit or separated from their teams.
This last problem has been a huge issue for people starting new posts who have to email every little question. We are not all autonomous units and we need to be allowed to work in our teams when in the workplace for support and skills development.
A booking system should also have a way of recording if people have been unable to work where they needed to. Just because someone is working at home doesn’t mean they wanted to.
Many staff have complained about the costs of working at home. There must be some remuneration for heating, electricity etc. and does that home wi-fi need upgrading for security and bandwidth?
Not everybody is saving on a commute.
And that brings up the thorny issue of how to pay travel expenses to people making work trips from home. If I’m on the way to the office then perhaps I have incurred little expense by stopping off on the way, but what about when that was my only reason to leave the home office? If I can only claim from home by being a full-time home worker then I’m going to end up coming to work just to go out again, undermining any green gains.
We need to understand the environmental costs and benefits.
Less cars on the road is a good thing but with people having been warned away from public transport we don’t want to make routes unviable long term and replace the cars of our employees with those of others.
Large workspaces tend to lend themselves better to more efficient and green power solutions like rooftop solar. How are thousands of home gas boilers impacting?
We need to understand the effect on the economy. Yes budgets are tight, but with retail and other businesses shutting we need to be careful not to be contributing to a post covid depression. If we act as anchor businesses we can be part of getting the country out of this mess, and where we can sell of buildings, do it in a recovering market that wants them, not into bargain basement market of post furlough bankruptcy.
Finally we need to have a proper vision of what “new ways of working” looks like.
Do we really have the technology to work effectively from remote locations?
What do workspaces need to look like? Do we know what a collaborative space really means? Workspace remodelling needs to come ahead of workspace downsizing.
This may be the right thing for some employers; but cannot be a presumption if we are trying to be employers of choice as most of your people strategies say we are.
Let’s work together to shape the future, not just land in it face first.