Managing capability with hybrid workers
Rewind two years (and a few months) to before the start of the pandemic. According to research from the CIPD, 18% of employees worked from home on a regular basis. Now, however, the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), undertaken in spring 2022 (27 April to 8 May), says 38% of working adults reported having worked from home at some point over the past seven days.
Meanwhile, over three quarters (76%) of UK businesses say employers have a learning and development responsibility to encourage office workers back to the office and the same number (76%) believe employers have an economic responsibility to encourage workers back, according to a PwC survey of 150 UK employers as reported in Accountancy Daily.
In this article, we address the HR issues faced for accountancy firms and their clients in managing remote workers and how they can be overcome.
According to research conducted by the CIPD, more than three quarters of organisations have embraced hybrid working through a mix of formal and informal arrangements. In a survey of over 1000 senior decision-makers, the CIPD found that the majority of employers who can offer hybrid working are embracing the concept.
The numbers of those working exclusively from home, according to the OPN, has dropped from 28% to 14% between February and May 2022. However the numbers of those working in a hybrid way has slightly risen. It appears, therefore, that hybrid working in some fashion is here to stay.
Accountancy Daily continues to report on this area in relation to accounting firms. In February 2022 it was reported that hybrid working had been rolled out at the majority of accounting firms, with a third of accountants already working a four-day week then. Various accounting firms continue to undertake surveys on the area and to bring in changes in office design and approach, for example RSM Birmingham, Deloitte Newcastle and Moore Kingston Smith.
The FRC noted the impact of hybrid working on audits in the 2022 Audit Quality Inspection and Supervision Report: Tier 1 firms, noting an ‘encouraging’ steady improvement in audit quality ‘given the challenges of remote auditing and hybrid working along with other factors such as insufficient resource.’
Accountants are not alone in needing to continue to ensure hybrid working does not cause management, performance or communication issues.
Managing hybrid workers
It may be tempting to think that managing hybrid workers is the same as managing those working in the office 100% of the time. The manager will, after all, see them face-to-face, usually at least once a week. However, this is not always the case, nor will some feel it is enough for efficient management.
The recent example of the Frasers Group, who have done away with their Friday homeworking policy, due to evidence they claim (including employee social media postings) shows employees were using the day to relax, and not treating it as a proper working day by being uncontactable, supports the view expressed by Lord Sugar, that homeworking is a “slackers charter”. But, with careful management and explicit expectations, this does not by any means have to be the case.
Design a performance management plan with input from employees
Acas have produced a hybrid working guide and working from home guide that recommends consultation with employees (and any representatives) about the measures that will be used for managing performance whilst they are working remotely, even when on a hybrid basis. The guidance suggests the following areas of discussion.
* How employees will be managed when they are working from home.
* If there is a need to monitor employees.
* What could be monitored and how.
* Data protection.
* How monitoring needs to be consistent between those working from the workplace and those working from home.
This exercise will necessarily involve a review of the organisations capability policy, incorporating the above points.
Set goals, standards and expectations
Critical to any successful employment relationship is setting expectations for both sides. Employers need to set out what is expected, establish reasonable goals with their employees and let them know the standards they are expected to reach. This is true wherever the individual performs their work, at home, in the office, or on the road. In setting up homeworking, even where it is hybrid, this is a process that must be followed. Otherwise, problems will arise down the line should it be decided that the employee is not performing.
Be proactive with contact
Managers should avoid the temptation to wait to speak to an employee until they are face to face, as unforeseen reasons may mean this does not happen for some time. Tackling issues directly and early will build trust between employee and manager, as each parties knows the other will resolve problems rather than leaving them to linger.
Establish context through cohesive teams
The context of plans, instructions and ways of working can be missed when working remotely, as “general chat” is unlikely to take place. This means passing work conversations that may happen when in the office, that sparks ideas or explains a situation, is missing, and needs to be replicated in some way to avoid those at home missing out on vital information.
This can be done through regular team meetings, lunch sessions or encouraging the use of a group chat function on a messaging service such as Teams or Slack — keeping the conversation about work, of course!
Be aware of the risk of a “two-tier” workforce
The creation of a “two-tier” workforce can happen when those in the office are included in ideas generation and decision making, and those at home are left out. This is most likely where discussions are had on an ad hoc basis, perhaps around the kettle, or in passing on the way to the printer.
It can also affect performance management, through proximity bias. Managers who have only known employees working in a hybrid way have not had the opportunity to get to know staff how they once would have, through regular and prolonged contact in the workplace. Without care, this can mean that an employee’s full potential is not realised, and assumptions are made subconsciously because of the absence of the employee’s physical presence.
To avoid this happening, managers should be encouraged to establish a genuine connection with the employees they manage, through regular formal meetings, such as appraisals, but also in regular more informal catch ups and one to ones, where the manager take the time to focus on the individual, gets to know their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. This will put managers in the best position to form an accurate view of the individual employee.
Train your managers
The success or failure of performance management during hybrid working is going to hang on the ability of the manager in charge to connect properly with their employees and find a way that works for both to support the employee. Training will be essential to help managers develop these skills and adapt existing skills to a hybrid way of working.
The Practice Management Guide strategic planning section considers hybrid working in the context of an accounting firm’s goals and objectives. In summary, it can be useful to encourage staff and partners to consider the following three factors to arrive at the ideal balance for each of them:
- time commitment;
- job satisfaction; and
- financial rewards.
Performance management is a necessary process, whether an employee is struggling or not. All employees need support with their work, in one way or another. Moving forward, new ways will need to be found to identify and address these support needs. What is clear is that whatever is done should be in collaboration with employees. Employers can see this as an opportunity to redesign their processes in a way that best suits the situation the business now finds itself in.
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This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.