With “freedom” now upon us as a result of the majority of the legal restrictions having been lifted, many businesses, including our own, are looking to see what can be learned from Covid-19 as we come out of the other side.
One of the biggest benefits to come out of the pandemic, as far as the work-place is concerned, is the end of presenteeism. Clearly, there are many businesses where being present in the “office”, whatever that office looks like, will remain a necessity. For many businesses, however, the crisis changes that were made to their working practices in March 2020 brought into sharp focus the fact that being present does not always translate into productivity and that adaptability and flexibility might not only allow your business to survive the crisis, but to thrive beyond it.
Flexible working is nothing new. Since June 2014, any employee with 26 weeks’ continuous service has had the right to make a flexible working request. Before that, those with children under the age of 18 or with other caring responsibilities were able to make a request to work flexibly.
What is relatively new, however, is the far-reaching realisation by employers that smart working isn’t just about benefits for employees. Smart working is not just something to be requested (and possibly granted) when “needed” under the Flexible Working Regulations. In fact, when implemented well, smart working can increase productivity, improve work/life balance, reduce running costs, improve employee relations, increase client satisfaction, improve diversity and inclusion and allow businesses to access a wealth of previously un-tapped talent – to name a few benefits.
That being said, the shift towards smart working for all isn’t without its risks. Skiving, visibility, successful management and data security are just some of the issues that lead even the most modern manager to have reservations. Even Coronation Street has joined the debate, so it must be serious!
So, how can you be smart about smart working? Here are a few top tips:
- Have clear smart working, IT, information control and disciplinary policies in place. These need to make expectations with regard to smart working clear and tightly control what employees can and can’t do, not only in terms of working hours and locations but, perhaps more importantly, with regard to company equipment, systems and data.
- Inform employees that your IT systems are monitored, meaning that employees can have no expectation of privacy when using those systems – regardless of where those systems are accessed.
- Ensure that all employment contracts and, in particular, those of key personnel, include provisions that protect your business and the confidentiality of its information – which are relevant to your new way of working – not the way things used to be. Those provisions might include garden leave clauses, confidentiality provisions and post-termination restrictive covenants. As regards confidentiality – are there certain calls that should not be made from home, for example, where the employee might be overheard? As for post-termination restrictive covenants, there is little point in preventing an employee from working within 10 miles of the office at which they were originally employed, if they now work across six different offices or conduct most of their meetings in the local Starbucks (*other coffee shops are available).
- Communicate – clearly and regularly. The key to smart working is not only everyone understanding what is expected and why, but also what is actually happening day to day, what still needs to be done and what their role is. It is also important to retain the less formal benefits of the office environment, such as more junior staff learning by osmosis, colleagues having an opportunity to “catch-up” socially and managers having an opportunity to understand what is going on in the lives of their colleagues. It is possible when working smartly to communicate more, but often that communication takes a little bit more forethought. Use different communication methods, be creative and consider what type of communication is most appropriate for what you want to achieve.