More than a band-aid
Six months ago, businesses were forced to migrate to a new way of working almost overnight as we were urged to stay home to contain the virus. Although many businesses adapted well and remote working became commonplace, the process was rushed – driven by panic and spurred by the need to survive.
These fixes were never built to last.
As we look forward, it seems that remote working is here to stay – with many businesses challenging more traditional setups and looking to ditch or reduce their office overheads. But to be successful long-term, more structure and investment is required – particularly in the effort required to maintain a positive employee connection that transcends distance.
So, how can you keep your team engagement and morale high when working conditions are somewhat different to what you’ve been used to? We discuss this and more, with example to the drawbacks and how to address these going forward.
Leading from the front
Winckworth Sherwood found that 78% of employers are planning on “long-term operational changes” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 9% considering closing their offices completely
- 26% considering reducing their office space
- 47% increasing flexibility around working from home
- 38% increasing flexibility around set working hours
With huge businesses such as BT and Twitter making the offer to employees to permanently choose how they work it feels like we’re on the precipice of a huge cultural shift.
But, with change comes new challenges. What are the issues associated with managing people from afar and how can you look after your staff when you can’t see them? Let’s take a look.
Overcoming barriers to remote working
On the surface, remote working sounds great. It can help employers lure in exceptional talent, reduce office costs, chat and distractions and your employees will relish in their newfound sense of freedom – working how and when they work best.
So, what’s with all the reluctancy and why are some so keen to get back to the office?
Whilst working from home is popular right now, there must be some consideration into the long-term consequences that will begin to appear in the not so distant future.
At this time of great upheaval, we’re going to steer you through some of the HR issues that arise when working from home – with some thought-provoking insight and direction on how to mitigate any hurdles. So, let’s dive in.
Negative impacts on employee wellbeing
It is reported that 62% of employees would be “happy” if their offices closed and working from home became a permanent setup. But that leaves a good proportion of the workforce unhappy with this situation.
There are many reasons this may be, as the office can provide benefits for employees including:
- Social interaction
- Support – personally and professionally
- Routine and a change of scenery
- A place to focus without distractions, such as childcare
- Relief from home pressures, such as strained relationships
So, without the face-to-face interaction you’re used to, how can you look after employees? Be sure to look a little closer for the signs of someone struggling, including reduced engagement or participation, missed deadlines or overdoing their hours. These may be an indication that an employee’s mental health is declining.
To combat this, consider:
- Regular team meetings at a coffee shop or co-working space (when safe to do so)
- Making support digital, such as posting self-help and advice on the intranet
- Setting up support groups, buddy systems and social nights
- Encouraging employees to log their hours
- Reminding employees of their line manager
There is some stipulation that the increase in remote working will lead to a more unjust workplace. So how can you play fair in an increasingly competitive environment?
Say there’s a big promotion coming up. Who will be seen more favourably for the leg up: an employee who is frequently present and visible within the office or a team member that may be less well-known working from home?
There’s a great possibility that a two-tier workforce will soon be established – dividing those that come into work and those that don’t. And, with childcare being a key draw for remote working, women are likely to be most affected by this, causing the gender pay gap to be even further widened.
Other concerns include wages being driven down – due to reduced travel expenses, outsourcing and increased competition. Although it’s understandable for businesses to try and reduce costs, this will further suppress our economy and lead your customers to also look for the cheapest option.
Therefore, is leaning towards this remote workforce just a way of shooting ourselves in the foot? Honestly, we can’t tell you how to run your business. However, to stay mindful, take five to contemplate the following…
- Creating a fair criterion for the recruitment process
- Annually publishing your gender pay report
- Actively planning to reduce any variance found [see above]
- Mapping your pay against GDP and inflation
A huge 46% of HR decision makers are concerned that employees won’t be able to carry out their jobs effectively at home. However, almost half this number of employees have the same concern. So why is this?
A great way to measure whether employees can work effectively at home is to determine what ‘effective’ means to you; take some time to document what a ‘good’ job done looks like.
- Outcome-based measurement
- Clear communication
- Realistic deadlines
- Regular reviews
By measuring outcomes, rather than hours spent in the office, you can then begin to measure whether an employee is effectively working at home or not. Be sure to provide clarity on objectives, detail what is expected from employees and what they need to achieve and by when.
If you have not done the role yourself, you may find it useful to have a discussion with employees to discuss what is reasonable within their time constraints. After all, overly ambitious targets often turn employees off and lead to a decline in motivation, job satisfaction and mental health.
Lack of control (trust)
By having employees under their roof, many employers feel as if they can control their employees better. At the end of the day, the issue is: do you trust your employees?
Failure to trust your employees can lead to wasted time on micromanagement, a reluctancy to take ownership of responsibilities and a reduction in engagement and job satisfaction – with employees viewing ‘spying’ negatively. Trust them too much and you risk them feeling lost or taking advantage.
Therefore, it may reassure you to learn that only 12% of employees struggle to motivate themselves. In fact, employees that work from home tend to work harder due to concerns that it will be perceived negatively or that their privileges will be revoked.
To combat this, consider:
- Learning what makes employees tick and ensuring they feel supported
- Checking in regularly to monitor and ensure progress
- Clearly communicating expectations
- Set meetings and PDRs to review progress and rectify any issues.
We anticipate that AI and monitoring will be stepped up in the months to come. In fact, it’s already happening before our very eyes!
Employees can no longer log in early, collect the kids from school and pretend they were working all along. Technology can now determine when you touch your keypad and will alert your manager if you haven’t been active.
Your emails may be monitored too – determining your intentions and engagement by unpicking what and how you word your emails.
So, with monitoring expected to greatly increase, how can we avoid upsetting employees?
To avoid upset, consider:
- Being transparent about how technologies works
- Explaining why it has been put in place
- Outlining how technology will be used (eg, in PDRs)
- Addressing any concerns that employees may have.
Remember: any worker that has been with you for at least 26 weeks automatically gains the right to apply for flexible working. If you deem it appropriate to grant requests and feel this will not impact the individual’s ability to perform, this may provide a more open solution that will stop employees feeling the need to deceive their employer.
Need more help?
If you are considering whether a return to the office is essential, safe and mutually agreed, check out the CIPD’s useful resource here. It helps point you towards some useful resources and raises some poignant questions.
If you need some support adjusting to remote working and require some assistance motivating and engaging your employees, get in touch with Crosse HR.
Our experts offer shrewd HR solutions that won’t break the bank. Discover more today.
Businesses are facing many challenges right now as they seek to recover from the shock of the pandemic, recover as best possible and plan for rocky tides that lie ahead. However, perhaps one of the most pressing challenges for businesses post-lockdown is about being lean but not mean.
What am I trying to say?
I am talking about balancing cashflow and the affordability to resource with customer and employee satisfaction.
Many business owners have had staff on furlough and are trying to get the timing right in bringing those staff back to work, whilst others are debating how much temporary resource they might need and when.
How does this impact Customer Satisfaction and Employee well-being?
Two examples I have seen this week…
I am currently going through a house purchase. Our buyer changed solicitor mid-way through the process as the firm had furloughed so many people, he couldn’t get the service he needed.
A client of ours was telling us about her husband who is being asked to carry the work of his department of three; to achieve this, he’s having to work twelve-hour days to keep up. The firm can then maximise their use of the furlough scheme.
In both of these examples, the firms are clearly trying their best to manage cash to preserve their future.
However, the outcome is not good for the business with the first example meaning the solicitor lost the work. In the second, the employee, who is already drained after everything we have all gone through in the last few months, due to worries about job security, is sadly expected to accept this increased workload.
What can you do to get it right?
Plan, plan, plan
Of course, no-one knows what the future holds right now and what the recovery will look like, but you still need to try. Doing so will help to estimate the optimum time at which you will need more resource. My advice; –
- Make your best estimate on what income will look like
- Assess the staffing capacity you need to service this well
- Understand the trigger points in advance on when you need to bring the additional resource into service customers and ensure employee well-being.
Consider Capacity requirements
If you have used the furlough scheme, take advantage of its flexible nature. Remember, you can bring people back on any working pattern now so assess what is right for you.
Consider: is it more efficient to bring people back for one day and get everything done for the week ahead or is a few hours per day more appropriate?
If you use any temporary or outsourced resources, talk to them. Make the situation collaborative and discuss what you need, try to be flexible to ensure they can perhaps top up with work from other sources.
Once you’ve looked at what income you might get, and the resource required then look at your cashflow.
- What does that mean for you as a business?
- Do you need additional funding to get you through the next few months?
The balancing act
It is very hard being a business owner right now.
We are all trying to manage cashflow as best we can in uncertain times. A little bit of planning will ensure you can look after your employees, your client and your bank balance.
Be lean but don’t be mean.
About Helen Fleet
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a Finance Director and guides companies in delivering their financial and business objectives. These can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
Follow Helen on LinkedIn here.
It can be hard to keep on top of the latest advice and regulations at the best of times when you’re spread thin and busy with deadlines – let alone in the middle of a global pandemic.
Understandably, many of our clients feel overwhelmed by all the information out there. Especially with so many opinion pieces and inaccurate assumptions, it can be hard to know what to trust.
To help you cut through all of this noise, we’ve collated some useful resources to help address your most pressing concerns.
This article outlines some of the key changes that you should be aware of and points you in the right direction for more information and support should you need it.
We hope it helps in this stressful time.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
It is well reported that HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wage costs up to a cap of £2,500pm. This is part of their plan to support businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.
Who counts as a furloughed worker?
A furloughed worker is someone who is still employed but not working, perhaps due to a lack of work. The purpose of this scheme is to help businesses to continue paying employees that would have otherwise been laid off by putting them on temporary leave.
Furloughed employees must have been on your PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020, and can be on any type of contract, including:
- Full-time employees
- Part-time employees
- Employees on agency contracts
- Employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts
If you have made employees redundant since 28 February 2020, you can rehire and cover these employees under the scheme too.
What will it cost the employer?
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is open to all UK employers for at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. In addition to the 80% grant covered by the government, businesses must also pay:
- Employer National Insurance contribution
- Minimum enrolment employer pension contribution
Where a company is being taken under the management of an administrator, the administrator will be able to access the Job Retention Scheme.
A breakdown of the government support available for businesses
How to access the scheme
Claiming Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
If you’re self-isolating because of COVID-19, you are entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) of £94.25 per week.
When can I claim SSP?
New legislation has been brought forward to give you access to SSP from the first day you’re self-isolating and cannot work. This new legislation came into action on 13.03.20 and overrides the previous 4-day caveat.
How to report and manage sickness in 10 easy steps
When should I self-isolate?
How to claim SSP
Changes to IR35
In light of the coronavirus creating business uncertainty and high levels of stress, the Treasury confirmed that they would postpone IR35 for another year.
This means that businesses now have until April 2021 to address the reforms necessary. These changes will drive major change in the contracting industry.
What is IR35?
IR35 is designed to combat tax avoidance by “disguised employees”. Under new rules, every medium and large private sector business in the UK will become liable for setting the tax status of any employee that they hire – including contract and temporary workers.
The new rules will apply to businesses with either:
- 50+ employees
- An annual turnover of over £10.2 million
With many companies already reviewing their policies and contracts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, now is a great time to address IR35 so that you’re prepared when the changes come in next April.
What are the changes that IR35 will make?
Understanding off-payroll working (IR35)
The Good Work Plan
As of April 2020, The Good Work Plan comes into place. This is a plan that sets out the government’s vision for the future of the UK labour market. It seeks to “reward people for hard work” in a bid to boost productivity and earnings in the UK.
The new plan details how to address issues in our labour market, such as:
- The implications of new forms of work
- The rise of digital platforms
- Impacts of new working models
The Good Work Plan also draws on recommendations about:
- Employment status
- Agency workers
- Increasing transparency in the labour market
- The enforcement of employment rights
What changes you should expect to see from The Good Work Plan
Policy Paper – Good Work Plan
Deferring VAT and Income Tax Payments
The government have announced that they will support businesses by deferring tax payments, as outlined below.
- If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021.
- For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.
All UK businesses and self-employed individuals are eligible. There is no application required.
Relieve temporary financial distress with HMRC Time to Pay Offer
A breakdown of the government support available for businesses
Supporting your employees’ financial wellbeing
Typically, your employee’s largest financial outgoing will be their monthly mortgage payment.
Taking a break from their mortgage – with a mortgage holiday of up to three months – can act as welcome financial relief. In this unsettling time, if you are having to cut or reduce hours, it may be worth providing some resources for your employees to access this aid.
Am I Eligible?
Whether you are eligible to take a payment holiday, for how long, and the conditions you must meet depends on:
- Your lender
- Your mortgage contract
- Your financial circumstance
It is best to advice that your employee contacts their bank directly to discuss a mortgage payment holiday. However, please do make them aware that this will make their payments go up afterwards.
What About Those Who Rent?
The government has announced a package of measures to protect renters that may be affected by Coronavirus and a subsequent loss of earnings. The emergency legislation means:
- You cannot be evicted from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place
- Landlords can take out a mortgage holiday on their Buy to Let mortgage
Pros and Cons of a Mortgage Holiday
Mortgages and Coronavirus: Information for Consumers by FCA
Government Press Release – Protection for Renters
If you are still unsure about how you should be responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, please refer to GOV.UK platform here. It is frequently updated with the latest information and advice.
For further guidance for employees, employers and businesses, please visit the government website here.
It is well recognised that isolation and the stress of the outbreak may be triggering for many, leading to a decline in mental health.
In order to help you address this, we’ve attached some useful resources that help you become aware of your own mental state and some handy tips that may help you look after yourself during this difficult time.
Discover how you should be looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak here.
The mental health charity, MIND, have also released some support and resources to help you during this time. You can access this here.
Working from Home
If you’ve recently transitioned from office to home, the resources below may help you settle into your new work environment more seamlessly!
Tips for creating a positive environment to work from are available here.
Top tips for working from home are also available here.
We also appreciate that it is especially hard for those who are working from home whilst simultaneously juggling homeschooling. If you’re looking for some advice about working from home with children, you can find some tips here.
If you have any concerns or questions about the latest changes in legislation or how they may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact us online or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try our best to point you in the right direction.
According to Lauren Turner in her BBC article https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-50266957 shared by the wonderful Alex Stephany CEO at Beam https://beam.org (a crowd funding platform to help homeless people into work) kindness helps us all to live longer.
Mr Daniel Kessler who heads up the UCLA’s Bedari Kindness Institute (funded (to the tune of $20 million) by very kind people Jennifer and Matthew C Harris) says
‘Kindness, is “the thoughts, feelings and beliefs associated with actions intending to benefit others, where benefiting others is an end in itself, not a means to an end”.
And unkindness, on the other hand, is “intolerant beliefs, the lack of valuation of others’ welfare”.
It got me thinking, if I am to live a long life I must consciously try to be kinder, then companies could last longer if they were kinder too, after all a company is made up of its people right!
So, how better to be kind folks, than to look after your people and genuinely care about them. That’s why I am providing you with a Wellbeing policy for free (how kind is that) to show your people that you genuinely care.
Kindness should never be seen as a weakness.