Additional Questions from Managing Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic Launch

During our 'Managing Employees During COVID19' webinar, we received many thought provoking and insightful questions. While our excellent speakers didn't have the opportunity to answer all of them, they have provided answers below.

What are the future aspirations from this research and implementing the findings in organisational practice?

We plan to encourage and aide organisations and policy makers to support productive and inclusive homeworking and encourage more flexible working in the future. We further hope to help remove the flexible working stigma to ensure that more people get opportunities to work flexibly. Flexible working can help greatly in terms of supporting workers’ wellbeing and help reduce gender inequalities at home in terms of division of care and housework. It also holds the potential to help with gender equality in the workplace and help close the gender pay gap by enabling more women to take part in the labour market. Overall, we hope that the findings of this research can help organisations meet these goals.

Were there disparities/ differences between different industries and professions?

Yes, we looked at different sectors and different geographical areas in the report.  For example you can see that managers in Professional Scientific and Technical industries as well as Public Services and Defence where more likely to say homeworking and flexible working would be supported much more in the future than other industries.  However, Public Administration and Defence were less likely to say there would be more support for part time working in the future than other industries.  Some other differences are found not only across industries, but across different company sizes (larger companies usually able to provide more support) as well as different levels of managerial positions. We strongly encourage you to take a look at our findings to delve into these findings more.

Fully agree with flex for all, not e.g. privilege for parents. Was there anything in your data shedding light on views about supporting specific groups (such as parents) with e.g. care solutions or specific networks. My sense is that there is a strong case for specific support/ enablers for different groups and yet sometimes there is a backlash and an understandable need to demonstrate that resources are fairly allocated to all workers. 

There was definitely a clear view that there needs to be more support for people who feel isolated and mental health support and a suggestion that this is starting to happen in many organisations. The data also showed that Professional, Scientific and Technical industries where very likely to supply parenting groups to support employees. In the qualitative responses managers explained how they had developed new norms in their team to support people with caring needs during lockdown.

Overall, however, we believe that flexible working should be available for all workers because everyone has their own unique demands outside of work that managers may be unaware of – i.e., elderly parents/relatives, their own health issues – especially hidden disabilities, as well as pets (especially as we see that there has been an explosion of pet ownerships). Only when we enable everyone to have access to flexibility as a day 1 right, and as a normal term of employment, can we start really removing the flexibility stigma against certain types of workers (e.g. mothers with care responsibilities) and can we innovate companies to ensure that flexibility is embedded in the structure – which can benefit everyone including the company.

As you went through this matter, what did you note analysing qualitative data that you would like to point out as clues for a better ‘working from home’?

In the qualitative data managers were very clear that they didn’t always feel they had the skills and training to manage a team of home workers, though many had learnt by doing, but it was clear that managers need access to better training in this area.  There was also a theme that managers began lockdown micromanaging but very quickly found their teams were more productive when they were more trusting of their employees.  Trust was a key theme in the qualitative data and the WIRC Inclusivity Research Centre has a Webinar on Trust in December details can be found here. Another theme in the qualitative data was around mental health and isolation particularly around employees living on their own and the importance of regular team communication which is not always directly work related.  Finally, many managers find that they had to ensure their team members were maintaining work-life balance, as many reported that workers were working very long hours because their offices were essentially in their home leading to a blurring of work and life. This was a theme that was mentioned frequently in our employee data as well.  It was also clear in the qualitative data that where there were any performance management issues, this was not due to remote working but involved employees who had had performance issues prior to lockdown.

So in sum, some of the clear recommendations we will give to managers is to trust workers will do their job and stop trying to micro-manage (use surveillance) them when workers work from home. This can lead to more problems. What managers need to do is to help workers maintain some boundaries between work and life and make sure that working from home does not lead to workers working all the time and everywhere, with work encroaching on family/non-work time. This will result in negative outcomes for performances. Finally, communication is key. Talk to your workers individually but also as a group to discuss what works, what doesn’t and keep a line of conversation going to adapt to the new ‘norm’. It may not be easy at first, but it will pay out at the end.

I am interested in your practical suggestions about how you support people at home who may have lots of online meetings, for example the no online meetings between 12 and 1pm. Do you have any other tips along those lines please?

The CMI have lots of tips for working remotely here. We will be updating it daily and you can sign up for free as a friend of CMI to get tips direct to your inbox.

The tone from the top and leading by example are key. People need to see and feel comfortable that this is acceptable but it can only work if there’s a genuine commitment to make that happen. Talk about wellbeing and keep it on the agenda.

How do you expect your organisations to change their working practices in the future?  What do you think will be the impact?

At the CMI we already embraced flex working before Covid but we have now ensured everyone can continue to work in a blended way - mix of remote vs in the office, depending on their personal preference and circumstances - with a new company-wide blended working policy. We have also introduced 12-1 no meetings hour every day and wellbeing days where we all take the odd day off to reset. I think we will have a lot more focus on wellbeing - flexing the working day, working arrangements - to support this.

I'm interested in if there is any distinction between remote working and other forms of flexible or part-time working? I saw the figures on part time and job share looked lower, for instance – looking for an organisation perspective on why organisations might be more likely to make working from home a norm for senior jobs in the future but fewer organisations are likely to open up senior jobs to job share and part time working.

Smart Working can help with this. It can cover the ‘How, Where and When’ employees work. This is a huge cultural shift and there are lots of things to consider. Some of these are logistical in terms of being able to find 2 suitable candidates to pair and to also match the hours, etc. There are also some stereotypes that need to be challenged too and this takes time but by even having the conversation, we are starting to face into these. Smart Working doesn’t have to mean reduced hours; it can of course but I would say Smart Working needs to be viewed in a multidimensional way.

What are the different variables organisations have used to judge the increased productivity? And how can we make sure that this increased productivity is not a result of employees working longer hours when WFH, as employees find it harder to ‘switch off’?

This is where it is important for leaders to set the right tone and lead by example. Also, a coordinated approach to employee wellbeing is important. The culture has to be right so that people feel it is fine to log-off and not feel compelled to work longer hours. Also, an opportunity to discuss and agree as a team, e.g. no meetings between 12-1. We need to empower people but live our values.

How do you expect your organisations to change their working practices in the future?  What do you think will be the impact?

Businesses have adapted to the crisis in different ways, including a shift to remote working, and encouraging flexible working patterns amongst their workforce. As we emerge from the crisis, I expect flexible working to become more common within organisations and organisations that already have in place flexible working (as we did), we imagine will continue to offer and expand on this. We hope this helps us to become a more agile organisation, and ensures we engage and develop our teams in an inclusive way – rather than just those who are IN the office or work ‘standard’ contracts.

At the CBI we are currently looking at different flexible working options which give the individual choice as to how and where they work. We are still brainstorming and will be engaging staff in this conversation but these could include moving away from the standard 9-5 pattern and allowing people to work at the hours best suited to them (with some core hours still remaining for continuity), looking at the possibility of compressed hours for some roles, we are also looking at hybrid working with some days from home and some days in the office.