As many organisations adopt hybrid, flexible and remote working models, how can employers ensure that every single employee is treated evenly and fairly, regardless of where they are based?
The ‘Mind the Gap’ report released by our sister company WorkNest – an employment law, HR and health and safety specialist – reveals that 1 in 10 employers are not confident they can offer a level playing field to office-based and home-based employees post-pandemic.
In return, employees doubt their employer’s ability to be even and fair in a number of areas, with only 40% believing they would be.
So, what are the risks that employers run if they do not treat their workforce fairly and evenly in a hybrid working world? Our associate solicitor, Suzanne Wrench, provides these four key areas for leaders to consider…
1. Provide flexibility and trust
During the pandemic, everyone who could work from home had to do so. Whilst it took some time to adjust to this, many employees have since realised the positive difference removing the commute to their office has made to their work-life balance. On the other hand, some could not wait to return to the workplace – the result is that there are more organisations operating with a blended approach of the two, known as hybrid working.
As a result, a policy of ensuring that everyone must attend specified work premises between 9am-5.30pm is not necessarily what employees now want nor, in some cases, need. Allowing flexibility in the hours set, and also the location, has become something employees expect – meaning many employers, if they want to retain talent, have had to adopt a hybrid position, and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
A strong leader and proactive organisation should consider an employee’s request for a more flexible location and pattern, and be aware that if it worked during the pandemic, the reasons for refusing such a request now, may be hard to justify.
2. Make the best use of technology
The mass move to working from home meant there was a sudden adoption of many technological solutions, ensuring individuals had the right IT equipment, so they could continue ‘business as usual’ despite the turbulence the COVID crisis caused.
For employers who have not invested in such technologies, remote working will have proved to be more of a struggle. Ensuring all employees have access to technology will prevent this from becoming a barrier to homeworkers’ success.
If organisations have not done this already, making sure individuals are equipped with the right technology to maintain a high level of productivity, should be high on any business’s agenda, along with ensuring that the appropriate health and safety obligations for work equipment are met.
3. Recognise the importance of excellent people management skills
This has never been more important. The difficulties faced by everyone over the last 18 months have meant that employee relations (ER) teams are having to work extra hard to check-in with staff, protect their wellbeing, ensure retention benefits are competitive and offer ways in which individuals feel ‘looked after’.
Without the opportunity for ‘water cooler conversations’ with colleagues and managers, homeworkers could be at a disadvantage, and strong people management skills will be needed to combat this. It is vital that all individuals are supported in the same way, regardless of location.
Also, after a tumultuous time, employers with an authentic people-centric approach will continue to get the best results out of their colleagues too – so excellent communication is key throughout.
4. Diversity, inclusion and fairness need to be central to business operations
Whilst the Equality Act enshrines the legal position for those with protected characteristics, the pandemic has highlighted differences between other groups – for example, people who can work from home and those who cannot because of their jobs, such as healthcare professionals.
There is also a concern that the switch to a more flexible working model could worsen already-existing inequalities relating especially, but not exclusively, to gender and disability. When thinking about the future world of work, an employer now needs to balance several additional factors to ensure fairness for all.
There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to best-practice operations, however, it is vital for leaders to stay ahead of the curve, listen and respond positively to what their workforces are telling them. If they fail to support their teams, this could result in grievances, and tribunal claims relating to unfair dismissal and/or discrimination.
And, perhaps more importantly, the biggest risk is the impact on employee retention. The last thing an organisation wants is to lose their most talented workers because they did not have their best interests at heart.
Ensure this does not happen to your business. Explore our array of guidance covering the future of work and how you, as an employer, can ensure your employment model is both fit-for-purpose and legally robust. And, do not forget to read our recent blog on ‘making flexible working the default’ to understand the latest government guidance on this topic.