Business Advice

Four ways to embrace flexibility and hybrid work that will help you keep your staff

- May 13, 2022 3 MIN READ

The fight to recruit and retain talent is on, and businesses are implementing policies to help them stand out from the crowd. One of the top demands made by prospective employees is flexibility. This doesn’t mean everyone wants to work remotely full-time, but they want the opportunity to mix it up and not be bound to a strictly office-based 9-5 workday, writes Bill Zeng, Senior Director, APAC, Poly.

Organisations that embrace the future of work by implementing flexible policies which cater to all work personas will be the most successful in attracting and retaining talent. In fact, Flexible/remote working was the top priority for employees after pay/incentives in the recent ELMO Employee Sentiment Index.

The ups and downs of hybrid work

At the same time, remote working has its downsides. People having to work 100 per cent remotely during lockdowns have struggled with a lack of socialisation and collaboration that the workplace enabled. There are also issues with “anytime working” and employees getting burn-out due to having no set time to switch off at home. In our recent Recruit, Retain and Grow report, 58 per cent of employees felt the rise in remote working has meant they are always on and always available.

Achieving a balance is key to the success of hybrid work.

Four strategies to improve the challenges of flexible work

  1. Flexible shifts to avoid the rush-hour

Offering flexibility to allow people to commute outside of rush hour makes sense for everyone: businesses, staff and the wider community. The ELMO survey identified “easy and/or short commute” as another high priority for employees. Less congestion means less time wasted in traffic, fewer late or missed meetings, as well as people arriving in the office with lower stress levels. It also makes it easier for people with caring duties to take on work, if work and school/day-care commuting times don’t clash.

  1. Reimbursing home-office utility bills

With fewer employees in the office, businesses are able to cut significant costs through downsizing office spaces and associated services, and could potentially pass on some of this saving to employees – reimbursing hybrid workers for bills like utilities, for example. The ATO already recognises certain working-from-home costs as legitimate business expenses that can be claimed as tax deductions. Particularly where employees incur additional expenses as a result of working from home, such as having to upgrade to a faster internet speed, it may be appropriate for employers to pay.

  1. Providing a technology allowance

Equalising the remote and office-based experience is critical, and this means designing workplaces to accommodate distributed workforces and virtual collaboration. A key aspect of this is ensuring remote employees are equipped with the right tools and support solutions. Research shows that one of the biggest areas of investment that organisations are making to support hybrid working has been in communication technologies, such as cloud applications (92%), collaboration software (92%), headsets (89%), cameras (86%) and speakerphones and conference phones (83%).

  1. Incentivising office attendance

Overcoming “return-to-office resistance” has become a hot topic for organisations who want or need staff back at their desks, full or part-time. Identifying different employee preferences is critical – research suggests that these vary according to according to generation and career stage. Gen X was found to place the most priority on physical networking and presence over performance, valuing the “watercooler conversation”, while Millennials consider that engagement can take place equally online as well as offline.

Creating a reward scheme for coming into the office is a strategy being employed by some organisations. Global real estate data company CoStar is randomly awarding daily prizes to employees returning to its US offices. Other businesses are providing free snacks and meals, hosting in-office leisure and social activities, and offering childcare stipends for working parents.

Hybrid workers should be valued

While some organisations are offering hybrid work benefits, Poly’s report shows 38% of organisations globally (34% in Australia) think it’s fair to cut the wages of employees that opt to work remotely full-time or take a hybrid work approach. The assumption is they are saving on transport costs and should therefore accept a lower wage. However, this could be a false assumption and make it harder to recruit and retain talent and drive further resignations. It may also open up legal issues as certain classes of employee are less able to take on office-based work, such as parents and people with disabilities.

Hybrid isn’t simply a blip. Businesses need to remain agile and be prepared for future uncertainty. The role of the office is changing and employers must rethink office attractiveness and purpose. It is clear that the office will continue to play a role – it’s a go-to destination for employees – but the way it is being used will change. It’s not just about showing your face.

Poly’s Evolution of the Workplace report found visits to the office will become purpose-driven: attending a meeting, brainstorming, collaborating and having access to appropriate technology. If such trends around occupancy and usage continue, and space is no longer used to capacity, the office as we know it today will need to evolve.

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