The Welsh government would like 30% of us to be working near or at home. But how?
After two years of lockdowns and social distancing, the COVID pandemic leaves a lasting legacy. It has altered our perspective on things like the environment – which proved so vital for our health and wellbeing – and has made us reassess our work/life balance.
Ironically, working from home made many people more motivated and efficient, while companies the world over have benefited from streamlined work practices, improved e-commerce functions and increased automation. In fact, some businesses positively thrived during the pandemic, supported by advice from Superfast Business Wales (SFBW). Read our case studies.
If there was already a growing trend for remote and hybrid working, the pandemic accelerated it. During multiple lockdowns, many people found themselves either working from home or using the office only on rare occasions. The very idea of ‘work’ changed from being a place you went, to the activity itself. In that regard, it didn’t matter where you were located. The availability of collaborative internet technologies and smart digital tools meant that most people could do their jobs from almost anywhere, just as long as they had a computer and a broadband connection.
By April 2020, just one month after the pandemic hit, remote working peaked with more than 43% of the UK workforce based off-site. This figure dropped as restrictions have eased. But at the start of 2022, more than a third of people were still working from home at least one day a week. The notion of returning to the office five days a week is increasingly an outdated concept.
Hybrid working in Wales
The resulting compromise is a more flexible setup known as ‘hybrid working’. This is a combination of time split between central offices and remote locations, whether that’s at home, in satellite offices, or in ‘third space’ coworking sites.
The concept has proven incredibly popular, with nine out of ten people in Wales saying they want the ability to work at least one day a week from home. A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) revealed that more than 80% of UK firms have now adopted hybrid working. In addition, a study by Microsoft and YouGov found that 51% of UK employees would consider quitting if the option of remote working was axed. The report also found that companies without a hybrid working scheme struggled to retain new talent, and suffered from negative impacts on productivity and staff wellbeing. Hybrid working, it appears, is here to stay.
The Welsh government cites a number of hybrid working benefits for employees, businesses, and the environment. For example, a reduction in commuting not only means less time and money spent travelling, but results in fewer cars on the road, with less air and noise pollution, and more room for walkers and cyclists.
“[Microsoft 365] makes how we work so much more flexible,” says company founder Kathryn Williams. “Being so much better-connected means that when I’m doing site visits, I can still access any files I need while on-site, and any updates I make are saved there and then.” Read the full story.
During the pandemic, workers in Wales were saving an average of 73 minutes a day, which they split between work and leisure time. (Over the course of a year, the additional 33 minutes spent working meant that businesses would gain the equivalent of almost an entire month’s worth of work). A move to hybrid working also means more opportunities in out-of-town communities, as well as economic and social benefits for the high street.
In September 2020, the Welsh government stated that it would like some 30% of Welsh workers to be working at or near their home. It has since been offering advice to businesses on how to move to hybrid working, and is collaborating with communities to set up coworking hubs. The first pilot schemes are already up and running in Rhyl and Haverfordwest, with many more to come. A national remote working strategy is also being developed, which sets out the government’s ongoing aims and goals.
As a consequence, Superfast Business Wales (SFBW) provides a range of ‘Working Smarter’ courses aimed at anyone who works remotely or as part of a hybrid scheme. These cover a range of topics, from the right tools for getting your business running online to hybrid working models and collaboration to protection from cyber-crime. The courses are free to attend and last two hours.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has a website dedicated to useful advice for both companies and employees embarking on hybrid working. It covers a range of employer responsibilities, such as creating hybrid working policies; the support, training, and performance management of remote workers; and employees’ health and safety.
This last point is of key importance, as the welfare of an employee is still a legal duty of their employer, even when they’re not based in the office. Employers need to be on the lookout for things like domestic abuse, as well as bullying and harassment, which can still be exerted via social media, emails, and video chat.
Home workers still need to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and should inform their managers of physical or mental health risks, and any working arrangements that need to change due to their personal situation. A detailed guide to subjects like risk management and health and safety compliance is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The challenges of hybrid working
Hybrid working has numerous benefits for businesses, but it also provides a new set of challenges, the first of which is actually implementing hybrid working principles, policies, and practices. This should be done in cooperation with staff, setting clear guidelines and expectations. These should include: eligibility (not every job can be performed remotely) and flexibility (how many hours should employees be in the office versus working from home).
There needs to be some consideration of how the physical office space works. Hybrid working requires a hybrid workplace, and there may be some investment needed in furniture, equipment, IT infrastructure and training. Managers, for example, may need guidance on performance management, remote communication, and collaboration, as well as inclusion and wellbeing.
As well as practical, day-to-day concerns, companies looking at hybrid working also need to address inclusion for remote workers. This means supporting distributed teams with the technology they need to connect and collaborate regardless of location. Aberystwyth-based digital marketing agency InSynch switched to home-working during the pandemic. CEO Eddy Webb believes that the key to successful remote and/or hybrid working is using the right tools.
“Our staff are much more connected,” explains Eddy. “By fully embracing Slack, we’ve improved our internal communications. [And] we created an ‘Open Office’ video chat on Google Meet which lets our team hang out as if they’re in the office. It’s recreated that office environment where people can have direct conversations with each other. It’s something we wanted to stay strong, despite everyone being remote. Across our two offices we’re actually more connected than ever!”
Hybrid working has many benefits for employers and employees alike, but it’s not for everyone. Therefore, implementing a hybrid working scheme needs to be fair and inclusive, providing a level playing field whether employees participate or not. For more information on how other businesses in Wales are using technology to work smarter, check out the case studies here.