We look at how charities are returning to the workplace, if they plan to do so at all
It’s been a long time since COVID-19 first drove many of us out of our offices and into our kitchens, living rooms, spare bedrooms – wherever reasonable desk space could be found.
Now, as restrictions are lifted, the UK Government is encouraging workers back into the office, in the hope that their return will help struggling city centre businesses and revitalise the economy. The plan aims to usher in a feeling of normality, bringing an end to the uncertainty that has marked our lives since March 2020.
But are workers ready to return to the office yet? Perhaps the more pressing question is not whether we’re ready to return, but whether we want to.
Prior to COVID-19, more than two thirds of British workers had never worked from home, yet nearly three in five who did so during the pandemic say they’d like to continue after it ends. One in five would like to do so full-time.
In fact, working from home has become such a sticking point that 43% of people say they would never apply for a job that is entirely office-based again, according to a recent survey by cloud-services provider Blackbaud.
So can we ever return to our pre-pandemic ways of working? Or is expecting a full-time return to the office like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube?
Hybrid working has caused a bit of a buzz in 2021, as organisations have started planning for the big return. Hybrid working allows employees to split their time between working in the office and working from home, negotiating with their employer as to which they prefer and for how long per week. As with any way of working, individual opinion on it differs.
“I think that all charities are experiencing a similar proportion of staff who wish to stay the same and [those who wish to] go back to work,” commented Alison Lowe, Chief Executive of mental health charity Touchstone. “There’s going to be a hybrid approach, a blended approach, to staff having an option of working in the office [or not].
“Obviously it has to work for the business and, in the charity sector, it’s got to work for our beneficiaries. But there’s going to be a lot of flexibility and acceptance of the benefits that the business can accrue by allowing staff to have that work/life balance.”
Indeed, the benefits are many. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), hybrid working can improve job satisfaction, reduce absence rates, and, if flexible working hours are also implemented, allow for a better match between resources and demand.
If hybrid working improves job satisfaction, then it follows that it should improve productivity too. A study by Oxford University found that employees were 13% more productive when they were happy. Job satisfaction also has an impact on employee retention and recruitment – an especially important consideration considering hybrid working could widen the pool of volunteers available to dedicate their time to an organisation when able to do so remotely or on their own schedule
Hybrid working helps employees to feel trusted by an organisation’s leadership and more in control over their work and home lives. The harder job may actually be encouraging employees to switch off, to maintain that important boundary between work and home, that, when blurred, can lead to burnout.
Of course, hybrid won’t be for everyone, especially in the charity sector, where needs and causes vary. But whether charity workers are all for it or against it, there is lots to be said for testing these processes out. It is easier to support any change with evidence, rather than using gut-feeling or guesswork.
Employees have vastly different needs and not just about their preferred ways of working. For some employees, it may be a relief to return to the hustle and bustle of the office. For others, it will feel like a big step, one they may not be ready to take just yet. It is important to exercise patience where possible, and put the processes in place to make the workplace as safe as possible going forward.
Many people will be feeling anxious about restrictions lifting and some employees will be clinically vulnerable. They might feel that continuing to work from home is the safest thing for them to do, given the COVID-19 situation.
However, under the Government’s official guidance, employers can request that employees return to the office if the job cannot be done remotely.
Workplace experts ACAS offer advice for both employers and employees on how to return to work safely, including information on vaccination and tips for supporting staff suffering with Long Covid. It also provides tips for those introducing hybrid working on how to prepare.
The CIPD also offers online resources for charity digital leaders who find themselves managing hybrid teams. It advises a ’people first’ approach, prioritising the use of digital tools that best suit the communication and well-being needs of team members, first and foremost. This ’people first’ approach is vital to making sure employees feel supported, whatever their situation is.
Hybrid working is not so much the future of work as the present, and regular check-ins (including non-work-related catch-ups over coffee) and transparent communication go a long way into smoothing the transition from home to the office, and vice versa.