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Staff homeworking survey report

Homeworking was mobilised across the Trust in March 2020 as part of the workforce response to COVID-19.

In May 2020, staff were asked to complete a survey in order to understand and learn about their experiences of homeworking. This included identification of learning, best practice and how the experience could be improved.

1,044 members of staff responded to the survey with 85% of respondents working in a non-clinical role.

Executive summary

Key themes

Management support

87% reported that they were happy with how frequently their manager had contacted them whilst working from home. However, recommendations in regards to content of communication were identified. These were outlined as clearer communication in regards to expectations, timescales, feedback and wellbeing.

Team cohesion

80% of respondents still felt part of a team with 90% able to easily talk to colleagues if they needed help.

There was a notable divide in regards to team meetings with some respondents stating that these had increased but 34% reporting that they had become infrequent. Correlation evidenced that a negative impact on team working was heightened when there was a reduction in team meetings.

Wellbeing

86% reported a positive work-life balance with 43% reporting reduction in stress. Improvements to health and wellbeing and reduction in commuting were attributed to these improvements. However, 16% of respondents noted an increase of stress.

Productivity

27% reported that productivity had increased with 30% reporting no difference. A reduction in distractions was attributed as the main reason for increased productivity Improvements to health and wellbeing and were also positively correlated.

Overall staff experience

Homeworking was positively received with 96% responding that they would want to continue working from home after COVID-19. Improvements to homeworking were identified through better communication with colleagues and access to tools and equipment.

Recommendations

The following recommendations have been put together as an outcome of this survey:

  • Virtual training for managers to cover:
    • Managing remote workers and embedding a culture of trust
    • effective communication
    • team building
    • health and safety
    • measuring productivity through output
  • Peer to peer training that provides examples on successful embedding of homeworking across departments and roles
  • Guidance developed on:
    • Supporting the wellbeing of homeworkers
    • How to work effectively at home and looking after wellbeing
    • Holding virtual meetings (including technology available)
  • Dedicated homeworking webpage for easy access to all training, guidance and supporting documentation
  • Review of the current homeworking procedure and amendments made to account for the increased availability of homeworking across roles at the Trust
  • Homeworking to be positively promoted across the Trust and clear communication around the intention to continue to promote it as a long term solution

Introduction

Pre-COVID-19, the workforce directorate had been preparing to roll out a homeworking programme to actively encourage the take up of homeworking amongst a defined group of corporate staff. The response to COVID-19 saw homeworking rolled out on a greater scale and to a wider array of staff, including clinical roles not previously considered.

Between March and April 2020, 1,505 remote access licences were enabled. Prior to this period, typically there had been 50 staff per day accessing Trust systems remotely. This has increased to around 1,600 staff per day.

Staff were asked to complete a survey in May 2020. The purpose of the survey was to understand the experiences of home workers. Managers of homeworkers were also surveyed to enable both viewpoints to be considered. A separate summary has been produced in response to this survey, however reference is made to it within this report.

This report has been compiled to provide a summary of the responses to the survey and propose recommendations.

Background

Over the last two decades home working has been on the rise. As a result of COVID-19, this increased to nearly 40% of the UK workforce working from home.

Research identified that homeworking, as a component of flexible working practices, helps organisations to attract talent, increase diversity and respond agilely to situations like the coronavirus outbreak, where business continuity hinged on the ability of workers to work from home. Improvements to technology has created opportunity for an even wider array of roles able to be undertaken at home.

Staff were surveyed in May 2020 with 1,044 responding. Of this, 85% worked in a non-clinical role with 15% working clinically. 59% of respondents worked within the corporate division.

Pre-Covid, 75% reported that they had not worked from home with only 8% having worked at home weekly. In contrast 52% of respondents stated that they were now working from home every day with 7% working at home ad hoc.

As a result of school closures and breakdown in care arrangement, 30% of respondents were working from home and undertaking caring responsibilities. 8% stated that they had sole caring responsibility with 22% sharing responsibility with someone else in their household.

The body of the report has been separated into five key areas, these are:

  1. Management support
  2. Team cohesion
  3. Well being
  4. Productivity
  5. Overall staff experience

Each area will outline the response provided including both quantitative and qualitative data analysis.

Key themes

Management support

87% reported that they were happy with how frequently their manager had contacted them whilst working from home, with a number noting that contact had increased.

35% reported they had contact daily, 36% reported contact a couple of times per week, 15% reported contact once a week with 8% reporting contact a couple of times a month.

However, 3% reported contact of only once a month with 3% reporting that they had not had any contact from their manager. Whilst the majority of respondents have had frequent communication with their manager, it is concerning that 6% have only been contacted once or not at all by their line manager during this period.

Communication is important not only to ensure that staff have clear understanding of expectations and required outcomes, but also to ensure that staff are supported and wellbeing maintained. This is especially true during periods of uncertainty and change.

It would be nice if managers could just send a positive message out to the team just say 'thanks for your hard work' or 'We've had a great week, keep up the good work …'

Some respondents noted that whilst there had been regular contact they would have wanted to see more appreciation and recognition from management, including a thank you or positive message. Of note, 15% of respondents stated that they either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were getting enough support from their manager. Many reported that they would have wanted managers to engage in general wellbeing checks.

86% reported that they were set clear work expectations with 93% feeling trusted to complete their work. However, a number reported that they wanted more feedback on work completed noting that 1:1s had stopped. Of note, 14% of managers in the homeworking survey acknowledged that 1:1s had not taken place.

86% of respondents stated they felt that their manager had kept them up-to-date with changes that were taking place but only 66% reported that regular team meetings had been maintained.

89% reported that their manager had been flexible with their working hours and 91% reported that they were able to easily contact their line manager.

3% had no contact from management. 66% stated regular team meetings had continued.

Overall, respondents stated that communication with respect to expectations, timescales, feedback and wellbeing were areas in which improvements could be made to enable more effective working practices.

Team cohesion

80% still felt part of a team.

80% of respondents stated that they had still felt part of a team when working from home with 90% adding that they felt able to easily talk to colleagues if they needed help. 82% were happy with how frequently they had communicated with their colleagues. Finally, 77% responded that collaboration on group work had been positively maintained.

There was a notable divide in regards to team meetings with some respondents stating that more accessible and regular team meetings had been introduced whilst 34% reported that team meetings had become infrequent. Only 67% reported that their manager held team meetings that they could attend. Of the respondents noting infrequent team meetings, one stated 'it would be beneficial to have weekly team briefs with members of the team to discuss tasks to be completed and any issues hindering progress as they arise'.

The management survey reported that 25% believed team working had been negatively impacted. The absence of team meetings were correlated with the negative attribution of team cohesion in both survey responses. Team meetings are critical in enabling team working and team cohesion to remain effective when homeworking. Many respondents commented that they wanted more team meetings.

I would have ideally appreciated a more regular team meeting on vidyoconnect.

Respondents also stated that they had felt more isolated and that asking simple questions was more difficult, but identified that increased communication as a team could have helped with this.

Respondents new to the Trust also outlined that working from home had not enabled them to learn from colleagues in the office. This had led to feeling overwhelmed with their workload. However, they noted that working at home would be a benefit in the future. This was also reflected within the managers survey, however it was acknowledged that new approaches and practices needed to be developed to enable solutions to this.

I feel very disconnected from the wider team when working from home.

Finally, there appeared to be higher disconnect in team cohesion where teams had a split between staff working from home and working on site with homeworkers feeling more 'out of sight, out of mind' and excluded from decision making.

Other respondents noted that they missed working with colleagues, with some feeling disconnected from the wider team. Other notable concerns were that the perception would be that they were not doing enough, and were seen as 'just being at home'.

Wellbeing

Work life balance and stress

'My quality of life working from home is the best it has ever been while working for UHB'.

86% of respondents had maintained a positive work-life balance whilst working home. This included responses that staff had made improvements to their mental health through having more time to exercise, sleep and eat better.

43% of respondents stated that they had felt less stressed, with 41% reporting no difference in stress levels. Many respondents noted that being able to work from home had reduced stress related to COVID-19.

2.5 hours saved in commuting

Additionally another contributor to the decrease in stress was the reduction in travel time, traffic and parking. One respondent noted two and half hours saved in commuting time. The reduction enabled many to improve their sleep and respondents reported being able to concentrate better, be more productive and engaged with their work.

80% of respondents reported that they were able to take regular breaks whilst working from home with two respondents stating that they felt more able to take breaks at home. This was attributed to not having the social pressure from colleagues, many of whom worked through their breaks, to deter them.

'I can see the outside world from where I work. Seeing blue skies and trees has been beneficial to both my work progress and wellbeing'.

77% responded that they were able to switch off at the end of the day, with many reporting that they were able to finish work and immediately switch to home life.

Finally, one respondent noted that working from home had been helpful in supporting the management of their underlying condition.

16% of respondents reported that working from home had made them more stressed. Of this, respondents reported that they had struggled to switch off from work mode at the end of the day due to there being no definite change from work to home. One respondent noted 'I just feel like I have mixed work and home life which I do not like, they are both normally very separate things for me'. Some respondents also noted that a lack of visual reminders meant they forgot to stop working or take a regular break.

Finally one respondent noted that they had found the frequent use of video calls and team check-ins had been draining.

Hours of work

62% responded that they had maintained the same number of working hours, with 30% reporting that they had worked more hours and only 8% stating that they had worked less hours. Of note, 31% reported that workload had increased, 18% reported that workload had decreased with 52% reporting that workload had remained the same.

Of the respondents who stated that they were working more hours, a number had reported that they had used their usual commuting time to complete and finish work off. Others reported that they had not been able to maintain a 09:00 – 17:00 day due to juggling homeworking with home schooling and child care. However, many noted that this would get easier once schools and nurseries reopened. Network and connection issues were also reported by some, stating that they found the system frequently 'dropped out' so had to work additional hours to catch up.

Finally, some responded that they felt there was an expectation set by managers that they should be available all the time when working from home:

  • 'Our team have a WhatsApp group set up by the team leader and sometimes there are actions posted that are expected to completed immediately (even outside my working hours)'
  • 'I have had to make myself available for two Zoom meetings, so far, outside of my working days and when I refused to work beyond my finish time I was told I was not a team player'

Physical wellbeing

83% of respondents stated that they had a dedicated work station when working from home. However, respondents noted that they had struggled without specialist equipment, this included chairs, ergonomic mouse and duel monitors.

Others responded that the uncertainty of knowing if home working would be a long term option had delayed them investing in workstations, chairs and/or equipment.

Productivity

27% responded that productivity had increased as a result of working from home, 30% reported no difference and only 12% reported a decrease in productivity. 31% responded that due to changes in work it had been impossible to measure.

Respondents were asked to identify the top three things that had impacted on productivity. From this, 39% reported that working from home had resulted in few distractions with comments noting that they were able to concentrate and focus on their work more.

23% reported that the biggest impact to productivity was not being to talk to colleagues as easily or 'bounce ideas around'. 'So much time seems to be spent sending emails, either troubleshooting issues with colleagues (the sort of communication that might normally happen in person by popping over to someone's desk), or sending updates to managers on how the work is progressing'.

However, as identified by one respondent, regular team meetings or short 'stand up meetings' would help to improve this communication and therefore productivity. Other respondents queried if additional channels of communication, such as instant messaging, could aid in improvements to communication and thereby increase productivity.

17% reported higher anxiety levels due to COVID-19 and 16% reported that working and undertaking caring responsibilities had impacted on productivity, 'The guilt is enormous – you are spinning plates, trying to work effectively, home school and keep food on the table'.

Respondents also stated that improvements to productivity would be made through better IT support, access to systems and equipment. A number of respondents also noted that they had been required to use personal mobiles for work calls.

The majority of respondents commented that improvements to their health and well being had positively impacted on their productivity. Respondents commented that improvement to sleep through reduction in commuting time, reduction in stress and being able to exercise more had increased their productivity. Reduction in travel time across sites had increased productivity through more time to work and/or prepare for meetings.

Finally some respondents noted that working from home had made them feel empowered and positive about their role and the Trust, impacting positively on their productivity.

Staff experience

Respondents were asked to identify the top three positives of working from the home. The results were:

  1. Reduction in commuting and travel times (62%)
  2. Feeling trusted by management to do your work (52%)
  3. Fewer distractions (45%)

Only 4% responded that they had found no benefits to working from home.

Respondents were also asked to identify the top three things that they had found most challenging due to working from home. The results were:

  1. Collaboration and communication with colleagues was difficult (30%)
  2. I don't have access to the tools or information I need to do my job properly at home (23%)
  3. Other (19%). This was split into two keys responses of childcare and IT support.

44% of respondents stated that there were no negatives or challenges of working from home.

When asked if they would want to continue working at home after Covid 47% of respondents stated that they would want to work 50% of their contracted hours at home, 21% reported that they would want to work weekly from home, 10% reported that they would want to work from home several times a month, 1% reported that they would want to work from home once a month, 17% would want to work at home on an ad hoc basis. Only 4% reported that they did not want to work from home at all.

Conclusions

Overall, homeworking has been positively received by staff across the Trust with 96% responding that they would want to continue homeworking after COVID-19.

The improvments to wellbeing and worklife balance were significant for the majority of respondents. 86% were able to maintain a positive worklife balance with 43% reporting feeling less stressed. In addition, 27% reported an increase to productivity with many attributing this to less distractions and being able to make improvements to physical and mental wellbeing.

Anxiety and stress is one of the top absence reasons at the Trust. By enabling more flexible working practices, such as homeworking, improvements to staff health and wellbeing could support a reduction in sickness absence and increase productivity and engagement.

87% of respondents reported that they were happy with how frequently they had contact with their line manager, however many noted that team meetings and 1:1s had reduced throughout this period. It is recognised that due to COVID-19 some of these management practices may have been deferred due to competing time priorities. It is important that as business starts to resume to 'normal' these are reimplemented and expectations redefined to this new way of working.

89% of respondents from the managers survey reported that homeworking had enabled them to communicate more effectively with their teams. In contrast, respondents from the staff survey stated that they wanted to see more detailed and clear communication around expectations, feedback and wellbeing reviews undertaken moving forward and also recognition through a 'thank you' or 'well done'.

It is important therefore that communication is undertaken as a two-way process. Often, communicating virtually can result in a hierarchical style between management and staff with tasks and work discussed but social 'chit chat', which enables rapport building, being reduced or ignored.

Improvements to communication and more frequent team meetings could also ensure that team cohesion is maintained and improvements made.

One of the biggest challenges noted by respondents was the reduction in informal conversations and being able to 'bounce ideas' around with colleagues. Improvements to technology over the years means that these conversations can take place virtually, however as staff learn to adapt to this new way of working a more conscious approach to initiating this is required. Consideration to the introduction of a 'coffee catch up' or 'watercooler conversation' would enable these informal conversations to take place. Proactive engagement as a team will enable the establishing of new team norms and common purpose and shared goals to be redefined.

In addition 23% of respondents reported that they did not have the tools or information available to do their role remotely. This included access to Trust systems or equipment such as specialist chairs, ergonomic mouse, or duel screens. Consideration therefore needs to be made regarding the availability for staff to have this equipment when working from home.

Finally homeworking during this pandemic has meant roles previously omitted for homeworking were able to be undertaken. As identified in this survey, 15% of respondents were from a clinical role. As the Trust adapts to new ways of working and changes implemented, work needs to continue exploring future possibilities in homeworking.

Recommendations

The following recommendations have been put together as an outcome of this survey:

  • Virtual Training for managers to cover:
    • Managing remote workers and embedding a culture of trust, effective communication, team building, health and safety and measuring productivity through output
    • Peer to peer training, providing examples on successful emedding of homeworking across departments and roles
  • Guidance developed on:
    • Supporting the wellbeing of homeworkers
    • How to work effectively at home and looking after wellbeing
    • Holding virtual meetings (including technology available)
  • Dedicated homeworking webpage for easy access to all training, guidance and supporting documentation
  • Review of the current Homeworking procedure and amendments made to account for the increased availability of homeworking across roles at the Trust
  • Homeworking to be positively promoted across the Trust and clear communication around the intention to continue to promote it as a long term solution
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