What work, where?

Personal effectiveness when hybrid working 

Most of us are very familiar with the office environment.  It was, until the global pandemic, the default working space.  We rapidly became used to remote working, but now hybrid is the new kid in town. 

This involves thinking differently about what work we do, and where we do it.  We are used to just dealing with what drops into the inbox or talking to whoever we happen to bump into around the long-fabled watercooler.  But if we are to be successful hybrid workers we need to think more intentionally about structuring and planning our working days and weeks.  

Working flexibly, in time or location, allows greater personalisation of work.  We can tailor it to our personal circumstances but also our internal rhythms and energies, in a way we cannot when forced into the regimented 9-5, office fits all situation.  We can link our working time and practices to our personal productivity. 

How do we make sure therefore that we can be effective and productive when we are splitting our time working in different places?

There is no single answer to this, as each situation is specific to its own context.  An element of personal reflection is required.  We’ve produced these self-coaching questions to aid reflection and planning. Feel free to reflect on some of these yourself or share them with others. 

  • What time of the day to you feel most energised? What days of the week do you feel most energised?
  • What time of the day do you feel most creative?
  • When do you feel tired or lacking in energy?  What makes you feel tired or lacking in energy?
  • When do you do your best work?
  • Where do you do your best work?
  • Where or when do you have your best ideas?
  • Who are you with when you do your best work?
  • When does your body tell you it needs to rest?  How do you know when you need to rest – what signals do you receive?
  • How often do you need to take a break? How long does a break need to be for you to feel properly rested?
  • How long can you work before your lose your focus?
  • What working practices support your wellbeing and energy?
  • Where do you waste time? Does this happen in more in one place or time than another?
  • What influences your personal productivity, positively or negatively?  How does your productivity change over the day, weak, or even the time of year?

Use these reflections to consider what are your most productive, creative or ‘peak’ hours.  What opportunities do you have to align your working hours and location with your personal productivity? What do these reflections tell you about how you should best structure your hybrid schedule?

Also think about the different aspects of your role, and the different duties and activities you undertake. 

  • What are the outputs you need to achieve and by when?
  • How do you measure your performance?  What is a productive day for you?
  • Do your productive times differ, in the office compared to at home?
  • Which of these are best done in the office or co-located with colleagues, and which are best done independently?
  • Which tasks need focus with no distractions?
  • What tasks require collaboration? 
  • Does collaboration mean in-person, or can it also mean online?
  • Which activities improve or are enhanced from being together?
  • What tasks or activities can only be done in the office environment?  What tasks can be done anywhere?
  • What work can be undertaken asynchronously (at any time, regardless of when others are working)?
  • Which tasks and activities can be completed at home or in the office more quickly?

If you have found it difficult to answer any of these reflective questions, consider keeping a reflective journal for a day or two.  Note down when you stop and start tasks and your perception of your energy and focus levels and what activities work best in which location of work.   Look out for any patterns that might emerge.

These self-reflections can help make us successful in the new, hybrid world.

Hybrid working – key considerations

It is now fairly well established that many employees want a more hybrid or blended approach to work in the future, with some time spent in the office and the remainder at home.  This will of course mean different things to different organisations and individuals.  There is no one single way to ‘do’ hybrid.  Even within one workplace there may need to be different forms and approaches depending on job role or operational requirements. 

If you are thinking about introducing hybrid working in the future, it is likely that you will need some sort of policy or a set of guiding principles setting out your intentions and providing information for both employees and people managers.

Organisational policies will need to reflect their specific context and circumstances but there are some areas that every policy needs to consider:

1.     Your own definition of hybrid working. Does hybrid mean a 50/50 split? Does it mean people can work from home on a Friday? Can it be used in conjunction with other forms of flexible working?  Does it mean that employees can decide for themselves each and every day where to work, or is this something that needs to be managed at a team level?  Start with defining what hybrid means for your organisation with your particular context.

2.     Eligibility. Who can have hybrid working?  Is it potentially for everyone, or are there roles where it just isn’t an option?  It is likely that in many organisations there will people that can work remotely and people that cannot.  Where people can, there will be further layers within this too.  Some roles may lend themselves to being almost entirely remote whereas others will demand a greater onsite presence.  Who will decide which role falls into which category?  Setting this at an organisational level will help to ensure consistency and fairness.  One option is a ‘job families’ type approach with clear descriptors. 

3.     Hygiene factors.  A policy or guidance should set out the organisation’s approach to the practical stuff.  Are you going to contribute to household expenses like heating and lighting?  Are you going to pay an employee’s broadband costs?  Will you be providing desks, chairs and screens?  Where an office or permanent workstation is also provided in the workplace an organisation may be reluctant to accept double costs. There are no hard and fast rules here, as long as health and safety requirements can be met. Once again, different approaches may be needed for different role types or teams. 

4.     Clear expectations. When it comes to hybrid working, everyone needs to know what is expected of them. When and how do people need to be contactable?  What are the requirements about when people have to come into the office?  What are managers expected to do around considering requests and managing performance?  Clarity at the outset will help to ensure new ways of working are successful. 

5.     Safeguards against bias.  Before the pandemic we know that people who worked flexibly were subject to a range of stereotypes, bias and stigma. I am sure that many readers will have known managers who turned down flexible working requests for their own reasons, including because they simply didn’t want people to work in that way.  Ideally, decisions about flexible working should be made by the employee’s immediate manager as they are familiar with the role requirements. However, there also needs to be oversight of decisions, especially when the organisation takes an informal approach to managing requests.  Without oversight employees may be unfairly denied the opportunity to work in a hybrid way.

The very varied nature of hybrid working mean that for the most part, the best approach will be to determine organisation-wide principles, with teams empowered and supported to implement them as they see fit and for their particular needs.  There is much still to learn about hybrid working – keeping any new principles and ways of working under review is one more key to success. 

5 things to consider when updating your flexible working policy

The global pandemic has necessitated a period of enforced and long-term homeworking for many of the UK’s workers.  In late 2019 around 7% of the population regularly worked from home; by the end of April 2020 Covid-19 had increased this to just under half of the workforce. 

This has led to many organisations considering their position on flexible working.  Flexible working brings with it many evidence-based business and individual benefits, as I explore in my latest book.  However, despite these benefits and a considerable desire for flexibility from many employees, the CIPD had (prior to the pandemic) described the progress towards flexible working as ‘glacial’.  The recent months have been referred to as a great working from home experiment.  However, working from home in a crisis, without the time for appropriate planning, training and necessary structures is far from typical homeworking.  

We must also take care not to conflate homeworking with flexible working more generally.  Since March 2020 we have embraced location flexibility (because we had to) but we have not truly embraced other, more comprehensive forms of flexibility. We do know however from multiple surveys that have been undertaken, there is a strong desire from employees to retain an element of homeworking post the pandemic.  

For those organisations who are considering the future of flexible and homeworking, there is much to think about and plan for.  With regard to flexible working policies in particular here are a few ideas to think about: 

  1. Drop the time criteria.  
    UK law provides for a 26-week waiting period before employees can apply for flexible working.  This is a barrier to talent acquisition.  Everyone in this conversation – employee, manager and wider organisation – will benefit from having this conversation at the earliest possible stage.  Ideally this should be during recruitment.  If flexible working is an option, say so in your job adverts.  Be clear on the forms of flexibility you will consider and expressly tell people that they can ask. 
     
  2. Reflect on your timeline.  
    UK law allows employees a maximum of three months (including an appeal if one is offered) to consider a flexible working request.  This is too long.  Employees don’t want to wait around for an answer a decision that may be critical for them and their home circumstances.  In most cases there is just no need to take this long to make a decision.  This is a talent retention risk – reduce it wherever possible.  
  3. Build out personal bias.  
    Ideally, the employee’s immediate line manager should make the decision on whether flexible working is suitable for a particular role. Wherever possible such decisions should be process light.  However, this brings with it a risk that managers who are personally biased against flexible working can have too much say over whether it is available to their team.  Application processes should always have some oversight or a route for consideration by a neutral party, whether that is HR or a more senior manager.  
  4. Promote trial periods.  
    Unless there is a clear reason that flexible working is not appropriate for a particular role or circumstances, a trial period should always be considered before an application for flexible working is declined.  Trial periods can take place for a few weeks or several months, during which evidence as to its benefits or challenges should be collated before a final decision is made.
  5. Consider other relevant policies.  
    For those organisations who want a more flexible future, the flexible working policy is just one document that will need to be reviewed and updated.  Expenses, travel, homeworking, IT and performance management policies all need to take into account greater amounts of flexible working. 

It is likely that homeworking will continue for many, at least in the short term.  This is the time for organisations to think about what comes next, and how it can best be supported through policies and beyond.  

Wellbeing and the role of people managers

I recently attended a lecture by Professor Sir Cary Cooper from the University of Manchester Business School.  Professor Cooper is a leading expert in all things relating to health and wellbeing in the workplace.  He reflected upon the role of the manager in wellbeing – noting that when you look at sickness absence data the relationship an individual has with their manager is (according to the CIPD) the second highest cause of work related stress.  Professor Cooper said that most organisations should have a sign above the door reading ‘your manager may be dangerous to your health’.  And if you are wondering what is the first cause of work related stress, it’s workload (also influenced significantly by the line manager). 

The role of the manager when it comes to workplace wellbeing cannot be overstated. 

This role is two-fold.  First of all, managers need to understand how to support employees who are already experiencing ill-health.  This includes the need for effect return to work meetings, reasonable adjustments, occupational health engagement and providing general support.  It also includes the ability to spot signs and symptoms of wellbeing issues, stress or burnout, and deal with them accordingly. 

The other aspect to the role of the manager is enabling good health.  Good managers will be able to create a climate in which wellbeing is prioritised, a place where wellbeing conversations are not only possible but welcomed, and where employees have permission to engage with wider organisational wellbeing offerings.  They should also take responsibility for tackling habits that can cause wellbeing issues such as presenteeism, long hours working or late night emails. 

To achieve both, managers will need learning and development support in order to build both the necessary practical skills and behavioural competencies.

In particular, managers need to have: 

·         a broad awareness of wellbeing and what supports and enhances it

·         an awareness of the causes of work-related stress and specifically how the manager can have an impact on this

·         an awareness of the organisation’s approach to wellbeing, plus activities available to them and their teams

·         how to identify potential signs of ill-health and what to do about them

·         what good role modelling looks like

·         what is expected of them in respect of wellbeing

·         understand how to have effective wellbeing conversations.

There is real power in the manager who discusses wellbeing and takes active steps to engage and encourage their teams to take part.  This alone can provide implicit permission and start to shift culture.  Employee engagement will be enhanced by a manager who is seen to care genuinely about the health and wellbeing of their employees. 

If you need any help in developing your people managers to enable wellbeing, get in touch!

Finding the balance

What is work life balance?  Just like ‘wellbeing’ it is an imprecise term that means different things to different people.  It’s a phrase that not everyone likes, as it brings with it the implication that work and life are two separate elements rather than interconnected aspects of who we are.  Here at the Work Consultancy we work on the basis that everything is connected.  Work life balance, and indeed wellbeing, is about our whole self, and that is how we approach all of our coaching and training.  

One way to thinking about work life balance is the idea of finding an equilibrium between our work and our home lives, one that works for us and our own particular contexts and circumstances. 

Work life balance is hard to define…. but we know it when we see it and when we feel it.

Maintaining a balance between competing aspects of our lives isn’t always easy.  There are times when the stuff will pile up and this impacts upon our resilience levels.  In our connected world with technology in our pockets, the lines between work and home are ever blurred, and there will be times too, where our work and our home lives are in direct conflict. 

There is much that can influence our own individual sense of balance.  Long working hours, technology, domestic labour, family pressures, ill-health, financial worries, commuting – and there is no one solution to the challenge of finding balance.  One size only fits one.  We each have to define work life balance for ourselves and understand how best we can achieve it. 

What does work life balance mean to you?

How in balance do you feel right now? 

What can you do to improve it? 

We deliver a range of workshops on wellbeing, including a workshop on understanding and achieving work life balance as well as 121 wellbeing coaching.  If you’d like to discuss your needs, get in touch! 

Wellbeing in the workplace – where are you now?

Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.

Primary interventions aim to prevent work related stress or wellbeing issues from arising.  They address problems at source. These interventions will be strategic, systemic, structural.  Examples of primary interventions include job design, working patterns, leadership development or resource allocation models.  Primary interventions can design wellbeing into the fabric of work and the workplace.  The responsibility for wellbeing is placed upon the organisation and its leaders. 

Secondary interventions are about helping people to cope with challenges and health promotion. It includes resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and coaching.  Tertiary interventions support people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation and includes occupational health, EAPs and counselling services.  Both secondary and tertiary initiatives primarily address symptoms.  They focus on and place the responsibility for wellbeing on the individual.

Primary interventions are proactive.  Secondary and tertiary interventions are reactive.  Research suggests that primary interventions are more effective the secondary and secondary is more effective than tertiary.  

Primary action is where the magic happens.  It tackles the big issues… but it is also the difficult stuff, and much more difficult than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.  

It has become increasing common to see criticisms of organisations for operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces.  It gives rise to suggestions of care-washing – there to look good rather than really make a difference.  But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary too.  Intervention in these spaces can support culture change, give permission to employees to engage and create conversations.  They can provide people with valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.

To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to include all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.  They have a complimentary effect – all three together is an optimal position. 

So…..

Where is your organisational wellbeing offering right now– is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

And how can you ensure you are engaging in all three spaces?

Domestic Abuse Policy

We believe that there are some policies and guidance that every organisation should have.  One of these is a statement about domestic abuse.  Domestic abuse is experienced by one in four women and one in six men at some point in their lifetime. It is therefore very likely that all workplaces will have employees that have experienced or are experiencing some form of domestic abuse – whether or not you are aware of it. 

If you don’t have a policy or guidance on domestic abuse, you can download our template policy for free.  You don’t even have to give us your email address.  Just amend it with your own branding and company details.  By having a policy and communicating it effectively, you are sending a message to any employee who is experiencing abuse that they can come to you for help if they need it. 

Download our policy template in Microsoft Word format here

Wellbeing that works

When we talk about wellbeing we don’t always mean the same thing.

For some it is about fitness. For others it’s about mental health.  For others, it is simply about physical health (the absence of disease).

There are so many lenses through which we can view a topic as broad as this; physical, psychological, nutritional, financial, social.

The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as: Wellbeing is where each individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. 

Other ideas about wellbeing talk of thriving, flourishing or being your best self.  Some talk simply of happiness. 

When it comes to wellbeing in the workplace, different perspectives are taken.  Some organisations focus on managing absence and ill-health.  Others want to improve wellbeing to increase productivity.  Others consider it as part of their employer brand or corporate social responsibility.  

Whatever the overall aim or approach, there are three parties in the workplace wellbeing relationship; employees, managers and the organisation itself. 

The organisation is responsible for the strategy, plan, culture and resources.

The manager is responsible for enabling wellbeing within their own team, having wellbeing conversations, tackling behaviour likely to negatively impact upon wellbeing – as well as doing the managing ill-health stuff. 

The individual employee is responsible for their own wellbeing and what they choose to do to support it.

For wellbeing in the workplace to really deliver, all three roles need to be considered and addressed.

·         The development by the organisation of an overall strategy for employee wellbeing, with an operational plan to deliver it and budgets and resources allocated.

·         Managers trained in their role within wellbeing, capable of spotting the signs that something is wrong, able to have effective wellbeing conversations and understand how their role is capable of enabling or negatively impacting the wellbeing of others.

·         Both manager and organisation can provide permission – they can influence the organisational culture. 

·         Finally, employees who are enabled to focus on their wellbeing, can maximise the offering of the organisation and can raise areas of concern without fear. 

An approach that fails to take into account all three parties to wellbeing at work, won’t work.  You may be able to make small improvements but they will not have the potential impact of a holistic approach.   

For wellbeing that works, all three players must part of the game.

Small Numbers; Big Impact

There are some employment policies that don’t have a big impact.  Not in terms of numbers of employees impacted, at least.

But to a small handful of people, these policies make all the difference in the world. 

Let me give you a few examples:

Fertility Treatment Policies. 

Domestic Violence Policies. 

Premature Birth. 

Cancer.  

Menopause.

Carers. 

Even if you employ hundreds of people, these policies might only see the light of day every once in a while.  A few times a year perhaps. 

You can get by without them.  Deal with these situations as and when they arise.  Do what feels like the right thing to do as and when.  It’s doubtful that an employment tribunal will criticise you.  There’s no ACAS Code of Practice to fall foul of. 

There’s often a desire not to have too many policies.  Let’s face it, in most organisations there’s often already plenty to read and keep up to date with. 

But there are reasons to have these policies all the same.  Some of your employees won’t ask questions or raise an issue for a whole variety of reasons from being embarrassed to worry about stigma or implications for their career.  Knowing that you have a policy gives them permission to do so.  Having a policy also gives your managers a framework within which to work; it gives them clarity on what to do when challenging issues arise.  Having a policy can provide information to your people at what could be some of the most difficult times of their lives.  These policies also set a tone for those that never need to use them: that your organisation cares. 

Like any policy, they don’t have to be long or overly complex. You don’t need to get people to sign them.  You don’t have to cover everyone in your induction or your company handbook. You can just have them, let people know that they are there if they need them, use them when you have to.

Small policy changes, small numbers of employees…….but big impact. 

PS. We write these sort of policies.  Just ask us for help. 

Candidate Experience – what, why, how?

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression. The candidate experience is everything that happens between a potential new recruit engaging with your organisation in a way that leads to them becoming a candidate (most often, seeing a job advertisement) through to the conclusion of the process. For some, this might be the day that they join your organisation as an employee. For others, it will be the point at which you conclude their application with a thank you but no thanks communication. 

Candidate experience includes your employer brand; the external perception of your organisation as a place to work. It encompasses all of the processes, from application forms to psychometric tests to the interview itself. Each and every communication and interaction. At its most simple, candidate experience is the way that you make people feel during recruitment and selection. 

Why is candidate experience so important? There are several reasons. 

Firstly, candidate experience is about your company reputation. In an age of increasing transparency, candidates, successful or otherwise, will share their experiences on review sites, or simply talk about it on social media. Today, most candidates don’t just respond to a job advert and then head off to an interview when offered. They will peruse employer review sites, they will check out the social media feeds – they will do their research way beyond the corporate website. They will form an opinion of an organisation from this vast array of data – and the interview process will either confirm or deny those first impressions. 

Of course, for many organisations, job applicants may also be consumers, linking inextricably the consumer brand and the employer brand. Even unsuccessful candidates can be an advocate for your brand if you provide them with the right kind of experience.  

But it’s not just about reputation. It’s also about engaging talent in a competitive market. The second reason why candidate experience is so

important is that, for the successful applicant, the candidate experience is the start of the employee engagement process. The experience of the recruitment and selection process is a window into your organisational culture; its overall experience provides an insight to an applicant on what it will be like to work for you every day, should they accept. A poor candidate experience may directly impact on whether someone chooses to accept or reject a job offer. When they do accept, the steps before their actual start date can either reaffirm that decision – or call it into question. Put simply, poor candidate experience is a missed opportunity for businesses.

Finally – providing a good candidate experience is the right thing to do. Can you remember the last time you were looking for work? Talk to many people and they will describe job hunting as a fairly miserable experience. Unanswered applications. Ignored requests for feedback. Ghosting. All too often, the effort required of a candidate is vastly disproportionate to the time taken to consider their application.  How you treat your job applicants says much about you as an organisation. Where people take the time and trouble to apply for a role with your organisation, so too should the organisation take the time and trouble to make this a human and fair process, with the experience of the candidate right at its heart. 

Recruitment is too important for it to be undertaken poorly. It’s time to focus on the candidate.

You can download a copy of our book on Candidate Experience with a free 30-day trial here.