More than half (53 per cent) of UK businesses say they are planning to introduce post-pandemic remote working policies and flexible working arrangements that will give workers greater choice and freedom. But navigating these changes will require some critical management thinking to overcome a variety of HR and compliance challenges and ensure that new hybrid models work as intended.
In reimagining the world of work, employers will need to ensure they are appropriately equipped to support workers so they can deal with the real-life demands of hybrid working. Ensuring that issues like inclusivity, employee engagement, mental health and wellbeing, are all appropriately addressed is crucial. They will also need to implement contractual and policy changes that effectively facilitate their new working practices in a compliant and secure manner.
Let’s take a look at some of the key areas that will require some consideration.
With remote working practices set to become a permanent fixture, companies will need to revisit and formalise their information security policies and ensure that everyone is fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to protecting data assets and other sensitive information. That includes the inadvertent disclosure of information in public spaces, such as coffee shops, and ensuring that no one in their household is able to overhear business conversations, view information displayed on device screens, or access work-related documentation or devices.
When it comes to accessing commercial, employee and customer data in corporate systems from a home working environment, organisations will need to review their data strategy in the light of GDPR and any industry-specific compliance requirements.
Ensuring appropriate access restrictions are in place is just the start. Companies will need to provide staff working remotely with clear procedures and guidance on topics like accessing, handling, and deleting personalised data. Undertaking a risk assessment will be key to ensuring that all possible regulatory risks have been addressed and considering whether monitoring employees will be essential to prevent ‘screenshots’ of privileged data being taken. Worryingly, recent research reveals how many remote workers admit to cutting corners where security is concerned, putting their employers at risk thanks to lax cyber hygiene practices. These risky behaviours included downloading apps not sanctioned by IT, clicking links in unsolicited emails, and using personal devices for work purposes when this was not permitted.
In addition to deploying technical solutions designed to boost network, device and user security, employees will need frequent training on everything from how to spot a phishing attack to understanding appropriate behaviours and responsibilities when it comes to cybersecurity and cyber vigilance.
Employee welfare and inclusion
Issues like harassment and bullying don’t just disappear when employees are working from home. What used to happen face-to-face is now happening via web conference, phone and email – so harassment policies will need to be updated to include harassment through digital channels.
Ideally, there should be a clear statement on what constitutes visual harassment (offensive images, articles, personal comments via social media) as well as clarification of the standards that relate to the appropriate use of video conferencing and messaging apps. Ensuring everyone knows they have a forum, such as anonymous reporting hotlines, to disclose incidents and any misconduct will also be key.
These organisations are also only too aware that the risk of a growing divide between their remote and office based workers means they need to ensure that everyone has equitable access to training, development and day-to-day information. Being out of the office shouldn’t mean being disadvantaged when it comes to being recognised for your work contribution or considered for future career opportunities.
Guard against discrimination
Remote working does not release employers from their diversity obligations and organisations will need to be on the alert to ensure that minority groups and people of different ages, social and cultural backgrounds are not disadvantaged as a result of working from home.
Diversity and inclusion training is just as important for staff working remotely. HR teams will need to look for ways to proactively challenge implicit and unconscious bias, address potential team-building problems, and ask for feedback to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure in the ‘new normal’.
Over the coming months, inequalities may start to show as people with disabilities or young children opt to continue working from home. If they are less likely to be promoted as a result, or to work more hours for less pay than office-based personnel, this could result in claims of discrimination and ultimately result in long term lack of diversity at a leadership level.
Closely monitoring earnings, bonuses, promotions, and training opportunities to ensure everyone is being treated equally will be vital to guard against these risks. Similarly, businesses will need to ensure they have frameworks in place to assess employee performance according to the quality of the work delivered rather than where the work is done.
Leverage hybrid to achieve ESG goals
Finally, remote and hybrid working represents a singular opportunity to make headway where corporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals are concerned. The environmental benefits of flexible working policies extend far beyond the reduction of carbon emissions resulting from fewer transport-related commuting journeys or lower energy consumption resulting from a reduced office footprint.
Organisations are now initiating regional hubs that put workspaces closer to employees and replacing historical global air travel with internal digital conferences and meetings that save time and the planet. With 65 per cent of UK workers saying they would be more likely to work with a company with a strong environmental policy, employers that prioritise sustainability will be best equipped to capture and retain talented people who want to build a future with organisations they see as being closely aligned with their values.
Similarly, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, hybrid workforce models make it easier to target new and varied talent pools. Whether that’s opening up opportunities to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and under-represented communities who previously couldn’t afford to travel or live close to the office. Or casting the recruitment net even further afield to tap into overseas talent.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has led organisations to reconsider what the workplace looks like. As organisations prepare to put their workforces onto a hybrid or remote footing for the long term, they will need to ensure that they strike the right balance between organisational imperatives and employee wellbeing. Ensuring that employees encounter a secure, consistent, and equitable operating environment, no matter where they happen to be based – and diversity and inclusion is enshrined in new working models and universally applied – is key.