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The future of flexible working - insights from an HR expert

Written by Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce | 14 Jul 2020

Bina Briggs is Director of Plain Talking HR, a Luton-based company that provides human resources services to small and medium-sized business owners in a variety of sectors. Bina has built her success on delivering simple and straightforward HR advice to support busy business owners with people-related matters.

“We cover the whole employee lifecycle, from starting employment to exiting the business, and everything in between. I’m a generalist, so cover everything from contract self-employment, policy and employee handbooks, to restructuring, people development and performance problems.”

At the moment, of course, Bina is also busy supporting SMEs who have furloughed their staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

Flexibility is here to stay

Bina believes that attitudes towards flexible working, and in particular, working from home, have shifted dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic.

“Although there has been a movement over the last few years of employers recognising that flexible working can work, the COVID-19 situation has certainly accelerated things. Employers who were very rigid in their mindset about not letting employees out of their sight have woken up. This is being echoed across all industries.”

And as Bina explains, many people are finding themselves happy working from home. She recalls one conversation with a client who works in sales, and who would typically find themselves driving to Cornwall, Devon or Scotland or wherever they were required. But now they’ve managed virtual meetings over Zoom, they’re realising they don’t have to jump in the car unless that initial conversation has taken place and there is a real promise of business.

Bina does a lot of work with construction companies and has built up a reputation as a specialist in that area. She tells us how attitudes are changing in the industry;

“Construction workers can’t work from home because the activity has to be carried out physically on site. But then you have the people who are connected with that organisation or industry, who are office-based. Up until recently, the attitude has always been, “Well there’s no way you can work from home, you have to be here”. But Covid-19 has certainly turned that on its head.”

But flexibility isn’t just about working from home. The coronavirus has shown business leaders that it is possible for people to create their own routine around their personal circumstances and still remain productive.

“I think what we’re now seeing is that everyone can work from home some of the time, or can work some odd hours. It doesn’t matter, as long as the work is done.”

Things aren’t going to be exactly the same as they were before for anyone, not for a long time. And this will come as no surprise to many business owners. The challenge for businesses, according to Bina, is how flexible are you going to be? What does flexibility mean and what does it look like in your business?

“What do you mean by flexible? The term itself is going to be stretched to the nth degree."

More flexibility means new challenges for HR

Since the start of the pandemic, much of the work Bina does hasn’t changed. Small and medium-sized businesses will always need employment contracts drawn up, performance management processes implemented, and advice on anything from recruitment to restructuring to redundancy. But Bina acknowledges that there are new challenges that come with a more flexible work culture.

“If people are working from home there will need to be policies around it. Have you got the health and safety aspect covered? Have you got the welfare of each individual covered? Then there are the communication channels, are they fully operational? How do you get people in the office to not forget about the people working from home?”
“It brings in a whole other raft of HR concerns because you have to really think about how you’re going to operate. You have to make sure that you’re still being inclusive of your employees and that everybody is looked after, listened to, and feels like part of the team.”

In the more immediate term, some employers are looking at flexible furloughing, i.e. bringing furloughed employees back on a part-time basis. And this also presents challenges.

“You can ask your employees to come back and work for you part-time, but it’s not always as simple as that. Do you have work for them? Do they want to come back? Because at the moment many people are still frightened.”

As people start to get back to work, the challenge is to ensure the fears and wellbeing of staff are acknowledged and managed appropriately.

A golden opportunity for employers

Despite the huge amount of business disruption the coronavirus pandemic has caused, Bina believes the upheaval will make many businesses stronger in the long-run.

“It’s given everyone something to think about. Employees are human beings. They are flexible and adaptable in every situation, and this is a golden opportunity for employers to work with their team and say, “That was really difficult for everyone and you all managed really well. Now let’s harness that energy; let’s harness that mindset and let it take us forward." This is an opportunity for bringing in new innovations, new thought processes, new ways of doing things, and not being restrictive anymore in thinking people can only be productive if they are in the office.”

To find out more about Plain Talking HR, visit the website.

Bedfordshire Quarterly Economic Survey May 2020

Topics: hr

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