Is hybrid working a risk to effective employee management?

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Michael Campbell, Commercial Director

8th April 2021

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As the government outlines a much clearer path out of lockdown and restrictions begin to ease, businesses will naturally be thinking more about their future working practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped set the stage for a global work-from-home experiment. While the initial adjustment period of remote working was challenging, for the most part workers have now embraced more flexible working arrangements. As a result, there are increasing expectations for employers to consider adopting a hybrid working model, that balances home and office working, rather than mandate a full return to the traditional office.

This adjustment has several implications for businesses, including on property, on recruitment and, not least, on effective employee management and engagement.

The insight that our in-house team of people data analysts collects across our many clients shows variations from client to client, as you would expect, but also a number of common themes running throughout the analysis which paint a clear picture of the impact of COVID-19 on people management:

  • Fewer conduct issues and grievances raised
    Increased remote working has resulted in less opportunity for matters of misconduct and conflict to arise resulting in fewer cases being formally raised. We are working hard with our clients’ managers, however, to ensure that changed working arrangements do not limit effective informal conversations and that issues are not going unnoticed or unreported.
  • Fewer formal flexible working requests
    There has been a general acceptance of the need to accommodate informal working practices during lockdown, as employers have sought to provide support to their employees in difficult circumstances, leading to fewer formal requests.
    Going forward, however, as a shifted balance between home and remote working becomes the norm, employees will seek reassurance that more flexible, or more agile, ways of working to which they have become accustomed can be supported and, if not, may choose to align their service with organisations that can support them in this way.
  • Fewer under-performance matters addressed
    Businesses have adopted a greater tolerance of under-performance, taking into account the impact of employees’ individual circumstances and pressures during lockdown. However, this leniency is unsustainable long-term. To stay competitive, businesses will quickly strive for a return to the high-performing workforce of pre-COVID times, and will increasingly expect managers to tackle under-performance effectively.
  • Little change in sickness absence levels
    In spite of sickness absence levels changing little, pre- and during lockdown, perhaps unsurprisingly the levels of sickness absence attributable to mental ill-health-related conditions has increased. It is vitally important, therefore, that managers do not find that the dispersal of their teams leads to reduced opportunity to spot early signs of mental ill-health and early intervention.


Moving forwards

So how can managers ‘manage’ and address issues in a timely, fair and consistent way when the opportunity for face-to-face engagement is diminished?

They key to successful people management in a remote world lies in choosing the right technology solution for managers to have the context, the confidence and the capability to effectively manage remotely-working team members, and for leaders and HR teams to have the visibility that underlying problems aren’t being missed.

Our latest product development empower® ensures that managers can take responsibility for people matters without introducing risk by taking them on tailored, guided journeys through employee relations processes. The solution provides you with complete confidence that your policies and processes are being applied consistently and compliantly, with a full audit trail of every action and decision to provide assurance.

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