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Employee wellbeing: Preparing for a hybrid future

As employers draw up their post-lockdown plans, a new report urges organisations to explore the potential for a ‘healthy hybrid’ model that can deliver inclusive productivity gains for their business, alongside a healthier, happier workforce. What can facilities and workplace managers do to ensure that worker’s wellbeing is safely delivered in the months to come?


A firm commitment to the mental and physical wellbeing of employees has never been more critical for businesses large and small,” says Neville Koopowitz, CEO of Vitality UK and one of the authors of a new report, Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business. “Now is the time for businesses to reset their approach to health and wellbeing and prepare for a hybrid future.

Trying to create inclusive productivity gains means aiming for a ‘best of both’ in two distinct senses. Firstly, it means aiming for productivity that is consistent with healthy behaviour and wellbeing. Second, it means trying to understand the productivity potential of different work settings.

Bringing employees back into the office will mean managers and leaders need to review their physical workplace design and should strike a careful balance between promoting connectivity and calm.

“The key priority is surely to reimagine the environment so that it is more conducive to ‘deep’ work,” says the report. “With fewer distractions and dedicated quiet zones, it may even mean that the physical workplace can unlock the creative potential of ‘serendipity’ and ‘social capital’ that for many homeworkers currently appears to be less important.”

I’d suggest opting for a reduction in the size of open-plan spaces achieved by the use of pods or layout designs that can be more easily adapted to changes in the needs of the workforce. Sound transfer is going to be a consideration. For many, working from home has provided us with control over the amount of ambient noise that we can operate in. Returning to a noisy workspace with little opportunity to work in a quiet area could be a major issue for many.

There are also COVID-associated concerns, such as ventilation. The Government has set out new guidelines for ventilation and maximising fresh air in the workplace, which includes open windows as well as the use of air cleaning and sterilisation units.

New technology within the office could help prevent the spread of bacteria. The increased use of no touch technology for lights and doors and the use of app-based visitor management can reduce congestion at pinch points as well as reduce the frequency and volume of people touching surfaces.

Some companies may continue to operate a one-way system in and out of the building, and may introduce temperature screening booths or rapid flow testing areas to screen staff and visitors prior to admitting them into the main work area.

Managers will also need to review their health and wellbeing policies in line with a new hybrid way of working.

A hybrid working policy should contain guidelines for managers and employees, outlining goals and expectations for hybrid working as well as the type of tasks that should be done in the office and those that may be done at home.

It should also outline any limitations to remote working, such as working outside of the UK, and circumstances where you may require team members to come into the workplace, such as for training or to attend meetings.

From a health and safety perspective you need to review what, if any, equipment will be provided to enable employees to work from home safely and all associated risk assessments should be updated to include working from home arrangements.

Loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on people’s ability to manage stress so it’s going to be important to ensure that time is built into the working day for social interaction.

Employees’ homeworking conditions are also a key issue, as working in unsuitable conditions could be an ergonomic timebomb for musculoskeletal injuries and pain. According to a survey conducted by Nuffield Health during the first lockdown, 70 per cent of remote workers said they were experiencing more aches and pains in their back, neck, shoulders, legs and joints, more eye strain and more headaches than usual when working from home.

Managers are advised to draw up robust new preventative strategies that promote good posture, healthy working practices, and safe working procedures when working at home.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments should also be carried out for employees working both at home and in the office. Ensure all staff receive clear guidance about taking time to set up their workstations before they use them, whether at home or in the office. We should all be thinking long-term now, rather than kneejerk reactions, and there is opportunity here for a healthy and productive working environment for all.

The IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing course, by International Workplace, is designed to provide managers and supervisors in all sectors with the tools and techniques they need to improve health and wellbeing in their organisation.


The vast majority of organisations are reporting plans to implement hybrid working as returning to the office becomes a viable option, and this will undoubtedly provide plenty of benefits. For many, the mix of home and office working will improve work/life balance, while on a business level it may help to attract and retain talent. However, hybrid work will also entail a dispersed and unpredictable workforce, now navigating both issues of remote work and old concerns of being in the office. To help the workforce through this, organisations need to prioritise employees’ wellbeing – both physical and mental – to ensure that hybrid working models don’t undermine productivity and culture.

At first thought, it may seem that the best way to action this would be to give employees free choice about where they work and when, allowing them to make their own decisions on what is best for their wellbeing. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as this, as businesses must also ensure that customer needs are being met. It is unlikely that everyone will be able to make choices in the same way about when, where, and how they work.

Questions of equity then come into the mix, and these must not be ignored, as a sense of fairness is critical in employees’ motivation and commitment – both of which are significant in emotional wellbeing. Not all work can be done remotely, or is best when done remotely, and organisations need to be as transparent as possible about this. Communicate clear expectations about attendance in the office, which types of work should continue to be done remotely, and the roles that will require greater or lesser presence in the workplace.

Of course, if these expectations are delivered from the top down, they may be out of touch with the experiences of employees, potentially even putting their wellbeing at risk. To avoid this, decision-makers must truly understand the work being done across their organisation. Pre-pandemic, plenty of businesses believed that most work had to be done in the office, but they were largely proven wrong. Some activities, especially those which are individual and less complex, are best performed remotely. But other types of work – especially problem-solving, co-creation, and collaboration – are delivered more efficiently and more successfully in the physical workplace. When we try to perform more social work modes from home, it can take a toll on wellbeing as employees suffer from Zoom fatigue and the frustrations of internet-based interactions. Genuinely understanding where and how work is delivered best is not just important for an organisation’s productivity, but also for its employees’ wellbeing.

That is not to say that once informed decisions have been made, they should remain fixed. Splitting work between home and the office is an evolving process, and different or new concerns around wellbeing may appear at various stages. Workplace managers should be willing to experiment to find out what works best for their teams – and this may differ from one month to the next. Individuals, too, need the space to experiment for their own wellbeing needs, and organisations must support them in this, or they may risk losing talent.

A general feeling of openness in approaching hybrid work will contribute to reciprocity – employees will feel like the company is supporting them and they will want to give back and put in greater effort. Bringing the workforce together and prioritising transparency will help workplace managers deliver coherent wellbeing strategies and will also ensure that individuals feel comfortable communicating their own wellbeing needs for the post-COVID workplace.” 

About Sarah OBeirne

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