Posts Tagged ‘flexible working’

Can employers force employees to come back to the workplace?

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Managing HR is challenging at the best of times! We are here to answer your queries and provide up to date HR advice on what is impacting businesses today.

Welcome to our weekly Q&A – if you have a question email us at info@voltedge.ie.

Getting employees back into the workplace

There have been a lot of queries on whether employers can force employees to come back whether on a full time or hybrid basis and what rights the employees have.

Essentially, employees are obliged to meet the terms of their employment contract which will state where the normal place of work is. While during the pandemic this changed for many employees, now that the guidelines are to phase back into the workplace, this will now be applicable again.

However, we are advising employers to act cautiously. Before implementing any changes we recommend developing a plan based on your specific business needs and the circumstances and needs of your employees. There is no one solution that will work across all businesses and for all roles. Collaborate and communicate with your employees and agree a plan. If at that point terms and policies need to be changed, they should be done so with the full agreement of both the employer and the employee.

5 Key Points to consider when returning to work

Anxiety

In the transition back to a new routine post-pandemic, virtually all employees will likely have personal challenges competing for their energy and attention. Preparation and showing care, kindness and wellbeing will be key success factors. Ensure managers are ready for this, and know what supports are available.

Induction

With everyone socially isolating for over a year, there will need to be an induction and integration process to support people on returning to the workplace. Regardless of whether individuals are coming back to an onsite or hybrid model, how things work, COVID-19 response, where things now are, use of desks and equipment will have changed for many.

Collaboration

Big gaps emerged during the pandemic around team working, collaboration and innovation (CIPD HR Practices in Ireland 2021). These have to be purposefully built into time onsite and blended working models, so time at the workplace provides face-to-face engagement, both formal and informal. If everyone is working blended, things like face-to-face meetings, team collaboration, have to be planned so the right people are on site on the right days.

Equality

Equality and parenting/caring issues will have to closely managed. This will require close monitoring and interventions to deliver equality and fairness, and attract and retain minority groups. Hybrid working is a positive way to enhance flexibility. Employees have more choice over when, where and how they work, and employers will be able to attract and retain a more diverse pool of employees and those with skills in demand.

Culture

One of the biggest challenges for leaders and managers will be the culture – bringing people together again around a common mission, purpose and ways of working. A gap has already emerged between those working remotely and essential onsite workers in some companies so getting everyone to re-engage on a common agenda will be critical.

 

Need more help? Voltedge Management team can help you to get advice on all aspects of human resources and management. Email Ingrid at info@voltedge.ie or ring our offices at 01 525 2914.

Emerging through Covid-19 Guide: Remote and Blended Working

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

Developed by Voltedge Management HR consultants and Enterprise Ireland, the Emerging through Covid-19 Guide provides an overview of flexible, hybrid and remote working models and provides insights on how companies can manage these new ways of working to suit their business needs.

Please click HERE to download the guide.

What should companies look at when considering implementing a four-day work week?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

To know if a four-day work week is right for your organisation there are many advantages and disadvantages to be considered. Communication with your employees will be crucial throughout the process and its very important to scope out what a four-day week means for your organisation.

For many, they are looking at how pre-existing arrangement and contracted hour’s between the employer and employee can be worked and completed over a 4-day period rather than a 5-day period.

Here are a few of the advantages and disadvantages companies are experiencing.

Advantages

  • Reduced costs

A four-day week can cut costs for everyone.

The obvious one is that, given the office would be closed for one extra day a week, running costs would see a significant drop.

Additionally, employees would be paying less to commute and would see cut costs in expenses like lunch and coffees during the day, too.

  • Happier employees

Having a three-day weekend leaves employees with more free time. Not many people will complain about that.

Having more time to do the things you love increases overall happiness and can help to increase loyalty to a company – it’s a win-win.

  • Increase in productivity levels

Discontent staff tend to distract their co-workers. The general theory behind a shorter week is that happier, more fulfilled employees are therefore more focused on their job when actually in the workplace.

Studies have found that 78% of employees could more effectively balance their work and home life. This was compared to 54% prior to the experiment.

  • Recruitment and retention

In the age of the millennial, being able to offer a more flexible work pattern is definitely a perk that persuades employees to stay at a company.

Knowing they’ll be getting a three-day weekend is one that keeps employees motivated week-on-week. It’s still a relatively rare offering and can be a great way to get the best talent through the door – and keep them engaged, too.

Disadvantages

  • It doesn’t suit every business model

Unfortunately, a four-day week model doesn’t suit every business. It’s an option that is only viable for companies who can re-adapt their whole business to a new way of working.

Adopting a different way of working is a big step, so you’ll need to consider whether or not a four-day week is right for your company. As mentioned communication will be vital during this stage. Ask your employees for their input and include them in the decision making process.

  • Longer hours and work-related stress

In reality, most employees on a four day week will most likely be expected to work the same number of hours, but in four days instead of five. In this case, shifts might be extended to 10 hours.

Longer days could have a significant effect on your employees’ stress levels and therefore their overall wellbeing and productivity.

  • Skipping Workdays Benefits Your Competition

The very possibility that an entire workday is now cut out from your schedule will seem extremely appealing to your competition. If they do not follow the trend themselves, they now have an entire day that they can dedicate to outperforming your organisation.

They may choose to contact your key clients and customers on a day where they won’t be able to get in touch with your employees.

Need more help? Voltedge Management team can help you to get advice on all aspects of human resources and management. Email Ingrid at info@voltedge.ie or ring our offices at 01 525 2914.

Designing the workplace of the future – A new guide for all employers

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

The world of work was shaken to its core in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland and hundreds of thousands of Irish workers had to suddenly work from home.

The slow and steady drive towards digitalisation accelerated sharply, and virtual meeting programmes such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams became commonplace. Now, 15 months on, and with the vaccination programme well underway, employers can begin to think about a return to the workplace – hopefully permanently. But the many lessons learned during the pandemic has had both employers and employees thinking about the future workplace – will we ever go back to the way it was? And do we want to?

Voltedge Management, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, have produced a new guide, ‘Emerging Through Covid-19 – The future of work, which aims to help business owners think about the positives and negatives from the last 15 months and to use these to build a sustainable business model for the future. With many employees welcoming the idea of remote working into the future, either full-time or for part of the week, is it time for employers to recognise the positives of remote working and tie it into their company policy on a permanent basis? And if so, how can they make it sustainable?

“This is a follow-on from last year’s Covid-19 employer guide; last year we looked at the health and safety aspects of returning to work, while the theme of this year’s guide is around the future of work,” explains Karen Hernández, Senior Executive, Client Management Development at Enterprise Ireland. “During Covid, the workplace has changed, the nature of work has changed for a lot of people, and what employees expect from their employers has changed. Our aim is for all companies to be prepared to put in place the right structures and practices that suit their business needs and also the needs of their employees.

“A large portion of our client base experienced the need to rush into remote working when Covid-19 hit Ireland in 2020. There have been some advantages and opportunities associated with this; some businesses found they’re as productive, if not more productive when working remotely. This guide aims to help companies take what’s worked well over the last 15 months and create some sustainable practices and processes that work for everybody.”

The guide was developed in partnership with Fredericka Sheppard and Joyce Rigby-Jones of Voltedge, a highly regarded HR consultancy based in Dublin. “The objective with the guide is that it gives you a framework to start developing your own plan for the return to the office,” explains Fredericka. “All organisations are going to have their own dynamic, their own set of circumstances, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this. Our aim was to identify key pillars for organisations to use to develop structure and a suitable framework for their business.”

The importance of asking questions

A huge emphasis is placed on the need for communication with employees when making these decisions. “Employers need to engage with and actively listen to their employees, while also driving their business forward,” says Joyce. “This is intended as a broad guide, where employers can pick and choose the relevant pieces to them.”

“It’s very important that employees feel that they’re being heard,” adds Fredericka. “However, decisions need to be made based on a number of factors, and employee input is just one of those factors. Obviously it’s really important to manage expectations and sometimes it’s just down to how you ask the questions. Give them some context from a business point of view. It’s not just about the employees’ wish-list, it’s also about creating a sustainable workplace for the future.”

Managing remote workers

Many employers are looking at keeping some sort of remote or flexible working practices in place – and offering this flexibility can be very positive when it comes to attracting talent. “Almost two-thirds of our client base are saying they find it hard to attract, engage and retain talent,” says Karen. “Companies need to consult and stay close to their employees and ask them what they want – and include aspects like flexibility as part of a value proposition to attract candidates.

“Many companies that we are working with are looking at some sort of hybrid model, where employees combine time working in the office and time spent working remotely, at home or in co-working spaces. There are huge upsides, such as accessing skills from different parts of the country that they never would have before – offering remote, flexible or hybrid working is attractive to employees.

However, this can be difficult to manage, and companies need to consider what works for the team as a whole as well as what’s right for individuals within those teams.”

“There’s a big need for management support and training, especially for middle and line managers and supervisors who are dealing with a remote workforce,” explains Joyce. “It’s difficult for them, but it’s important that they get it right. Ensuring your managers are confident in what they do, and in their engagement with their teams. We are hearing that companies are looking to bring their employees into the office more, but it’s about getting that blend right between remote working and the office. One aspect that we emphasised in the guide is the need to make sure you are not discriminating against employees who are not in the office environment.”

Identifying and managing issues such as burn-out and isolation is essential if companies are to offer some sort of remote working policy. “Companies that have regular check-ins and meetings with staff and use different methods of communication, such as video calls, emails and direct messaging are more likely to keep employees engaged when working remotely.  It’s also important for employees to have individual focus time, where they are able to detach from colleagues and concentrate on getting their work done without interruption”, says Karen.  “Long term, we don’t know enough about hybrid working for a definite ‘best practice’ but instead companies should pilot different ways of working – for instance, we have some companies who are trialling a ‘team days’ concept – having the whole team in for certain days of the week, then for the rest of the week, they’re working from home.”

Piloting the new workplace

The aim of the guide is to pose those broad questions that will help employers in every sector decide on the right workplace for the future of their business – but there is no need to rush into a decision. “The biggest challenge for employers is making the decision as to how you’re going to handle this working environment,” says Joyce. “Are you going to fully return, are you going for a hybrid, can you facilitate a full return in the workspace that you have? Employers need to make very big decisions, and very strategic, long-term decisions, so we’re suggesting that they talk to their employees about what they want and then piloting whatever they plan to do before they make any strategic decisions that will impact on the business going forward.”

Covid-19 has had a huge effect on how we work – but now is the time to use what we have learned since March 2020 to create a more inclusive, sustainable business model, one that pushes the business forward while creating a culture that values employees and their health and wellbeing more than ever before. This can only be a positive thing.

To download the guide, ‘Emerging Through Covid-19 – The future of work’click here.

Watch Webinar Recording ‘Emerging Through Covid-19: The future of work’ in partnership with Enterprise Ireland

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Voltedge Management hosted, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the webinar ‘Emerging Through Covid-19: The future of work’. The webinar discusses how Covid-19 has impacted the world of work,  how the changes brought about by Covid-19 impact your company and how you manage your employees, the practices you need to implement to continue to attract, engage and develop your employees in a post Covid-19 era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to watch the recording. 

You can also download the webinar slides here

Coinciding with the webinar, Voltedge and Enterprise Ireland have also developed the guide of the same name. Click HERE to download the guide, ‘Emerging Through Covid-19: The future of work’.

Watch Webinar Recording ‘Tips For Employers Managing Remote Workers’ with Fredericka Sheppard

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

In case you missed the webinar ‘Tips For Employers Managing Remote Workers’ with Voltedge Co-Founder and Managing Director Fredericka Sheppard, in partnership with AccountantOnline, you can access the recording on the link below.

Some of us are experiencing working from home for the first time so there are still some considerations we need to make. Isolation, distractions, and lack of supervision are a real concern for some employees, and as a business owner, it may be your responsibility to promote a good remote working culture.

We recognise that many businesses are managing (newly) remote employees and so, this webinar will help you address your challenges with managing remote workers and highlight the opportunities within your organisation. The webinar provides tips and best practices to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees.

Topics Covered

1) Remote Working – what does that really mean for companies

2) Employer responsibilities and the need to build a good Remote Working Culture

3) Addressing Diversity & Inclusion in a virtual workplace

4) A review of the expected regulations on the Right to Disconnect and the Right to request to Work Remotely

5) Challenges and opportunities for companies and managers

6) Developing your own toolkit for a remote working strategy

Click HERE to watch the recording.

HR & Employment Law – Round Up 2020 and a Look Ahead to 2021

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close and we take time to look back and reflect on what has happened this year, we find ourselves continuing to acknowledge what an unprecedented year it has been for us all. COVID-19 has touched every employer in some way or another and while the pandemic has certainly impacted and changed the world of work, our employment laws, codes of practices and guidelines largely remain the same.

 COVID-19 – HR & employment practices issues

Health & Safety

COVID-19 is predominantly a health & safety issue from a work perspective and employers have a duty of care for all employees under H&S legalisation.   While there are no new specific employment regulations related to COVID-19 in place, employers are required to comply with all existing H&S legislation and they must also ensure they comply with the range of obligations and requirements set out in the government’s living document – The Work Safely Protocol (the Protocol), originally issued in May 2020 and updated in November 2020.

The Protocol and the HSA provide various checklists to support employers in providing a safe working environment both onsite and remotely during COVID-19.  Despite the good news on impending vaccines, we expect that COVID-19 will be with us for a significant part of 2021 and employers will still need to continue to review and follow the Protocol for some time yet.

 Layoff, Short time & Redundancy

During 2020, unfortunately many employers were forced to lay off employees or reduce working hours as a result of COVID-19.  Normally, employees on lay off or on short-time hours can claim redundancy from an employer after 4 weeks or more, or 6 weeks in the last 13 weeks. If employees were put on lay off or short-time hours because of COVID-19, their right to claim redundancy has been temporarily suspended.

This rule became effective under the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act from 13 March 2020 and has been extended up until 31 March 2021. Employers are reminded that when selecting employees for lay off or short time working, they should apply the same criteria for selection as for redundancy. The criteria should be reasonable and applied fairly.

While it is expected that many businesses will recover post pandemic, it is anticipated that there will likely be some level of redundancies once the right to claim redundancy has been lifted.  It is important to note that where a business needs to restructure due to COVID-19 and where it may result in potential redundancies, then all the normal redundancy procedures including consultation and selection must be followed.

Working from Home – Ireland & Abroad

Working from Home

Employers reminded that under H&S legalisation, they have a duty of care for all employees even when they are working remotely.   For so many businesses, remote working became a forced necessity rather than a choice.  Many of the arrangements were put in place literally overnight with little time for planning and evaluating risks and supports needed for both the employer and employees.

The updated version of the Protocol guides that  “All staff should continue to work from home to the greatest extent possible” and that employers should develop and consult on working from home policies in conjunction with workers. Employers should familiarise themselves with their H&S obligations which include carrying out risk assessments, provision of equipment etc.

As we move into 2021, it is clear that many organisations will continue to either work remotely in the short term or engage in “blended” working models for the future. In addition to their H&S obligations, employers will need to develop more detailed Working From Home Policies which set out criteria for eligibility,  H&S guidelines for working remotely and also address issues such as Data Protection, Well-Being and Recording of Working Time & Rest breaks.

Engaging with employees at an early stage either through discussion or employee survey would be a great way to address any concerns and to develop a policy that meets both the individual and business needs.

Working from Home – Abroad

In some cases, non-Irish employees chose to return to their home countries and are continuing to work remotely overseas.  It is really important that employers are fully aware of the implications of continuing to permit these arrangements and the potential risks associated with the employee acquiring employment rights in another jurisdiction or giving rise to a tax liability for either the employee and employer in another country.

While most jurisdictions have a taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to these type of arrangements during 2020, it is imperative that employers have a clear understanding of the potential risks that may arise should they continue into 2021.

The right to disconnect

Increasingly, technology has blurred the lines between work and personal life. For many, home working and COVID-19 restrictions has resulted in significantly increased “work-life blur” and is having a significant mental and physical health impact. Unlike some other European countries, there is currently no specific legislation in Ireland that explicitly refers to the right to disconnect.

Between 2016 and 2018, France, Belgium and Spain have all introduced “right to disconnect” legislation.  While it remains to be seen if Ireland follows the lead of other countries and addresses this, some larger organisations are already developing policies that set guidelines and boundaries for their employees.

Retirement Ages & Pensions

The qualifying age for the state pension became a key election issue in February 2020.  As a result of significant political negotiations, the qualifying age for state pension will remain at 66 years for now. While the public sector pension age is now 70, there is still no fixed retirement age in the private sector and many employers continue to face legal challenges as their employees push to work longer.   Employers can establish a mandatory retirement age for employees, but such ages must be capable of being reasonably and objectively justified if they are challenged by employees as being discriminatory on grounds of age.

While a national auto-enrolment occupational pension scheme has been promised for several years, no further progress has been made on this and the pandemic has seen the matter pushed back again.

Family Leave & Flexible Working

Parental Leave increased from 22 week up to 26 weeks with effect from 1 September 2020.  Parental leave entitles parents to take unpaid leave from work to spend time looking after their children. Employees can take up to 26 weeks’ parental leave for each eligible child before their 12th birthday. In general, employees must have been working for an employer for at least a year to get the full amount of parental leave and must give at least 6 weeks’ notice before taking parental leave.

 Parent’s Leave

The current 2 weeks’ parent’s leave is set to increase to 5 weeks for each parent with effect from 1st April 2021.  Parents will be able to take this leave during the first 2 years of their child’s life (or 2 years from adoption).

Flexible Working

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, the Department of Justice launched a public consultation in January 2020 on flexible working, which aims to help the government address and consider a number of issues relating to flexible working.  While remote working has been a dominant topic during 2020, there is still the broader topic of flexible working to contend with.

The EU Work Life Balance Directive extends the right to request flexible working arrangements to carers and working parents of children up to eight years old. This includes the right to request reduced working hours, flexible working hours and remote working options.  Under the EU Directive, the statutory right to request flexible working will come into effect no later than August 2022.

Illness Benefit & Statutory Sick Pay

Employees who have been told to self-isolate or who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 may claim COVID-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit.   The benefit can be claimed from the first day of isolation or a COVID-19 diagnosis and will be paid for a maximum of 2 weeks where an employee is required to self-isolate and for up to a maximum of 10 weeks where an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work as a result. This benefit is planned to be in place up until March 2021.

As part of Budget 2021, it was announced that the number of waiting days for the standard Illness Benefit will be reduced from 6 days to 3 days on new claims (from the end of February 2021).

Ireland is one of only a small number of European countries in which there is no legal obligation on employers to provide for sick pay. The Government has recently launched a consultation process on the provision of a Statutory Sick Pay Scheme with a view to it being introduced in late 2021.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting

It had been expected that the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting would come into law during 2020. However, with the focus on other priorities such as COVID-19, progress on the legislation has been slow.  The European Commission announced a five-year strategy in March 2020 that includes legislative proposals on pay transparency.

Binding measures aimed at increasing pay transparency and providing enforcement mechanisms are due to be published by the end of the year. While we do not yet know what form the EU measures will take, the announcement should re-prioritise the Bill here and we would expect to see this back on the agenda during 2021.

Minimum Wage

Since 1 February 2020, the national minimum wage is €10.10 per hour. The Government has approved increasing the national minimum wage by 10 cent per hour, from €10.10 to €10.20 from 1 January 2021.

Liz O’Donovan, Senior HR Consultant