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Ways to implement 'Healthy Hybrid' into work as we enter another 'new normal'

Published: 28/05/2021
Our recent report in partnership with the RSA titled ‘Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business’ set out 10 recommendations to help employers deliver inclusive productivity gains for their business alongside a healthier, happier workforce.

There is no escaping that the pandemic has fundamentally changed homeworkers’ expectations, as well as the role of employers in supporting the workplace wellbeing needs of employees going forward.

Fifteen or so months on from the first lockdown in the UK, remote working has become the new norm for more people than ever as a result – in fact, it more than doubled in 2020, according to ONS1.

Many of those working from home may have been shielded from some of the frontline impacts of the virus, but the impact of this on health and wellbeing has still been high. Despite this, the vast majority of homeworkers are determined to spend more time working from home in the future.

According to a new report titled ‘Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business’, produced by the RSA in partnership with Vitality, only 16% of homeworkers surveyed would prefer to work in a physical location full time.

Read the report
Employees increasingly want to work in a way that can better support their wellbeing, offering flexibility, work-life balance and the ability to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle, the report shows2. Ultimately what this means is that businesses must embrace this ‘demand for different’.

More than eight in 10 said they would prefer to work at home for either part of the week or in full – just under half (48%) want a hybrid approach to working, while 38% would opt for permanent working from home.

The same number (80%) said they are looking for a better work-life balance, while seven in 10 (71%) want work to allow for a fit and healthy lifestyle. However, even though only a small percentage now want to work in the same physical location, more than a third think their employers will make them return to their workplace when lockdown rules allow – suggesting an expectation gap exists between employee and employer.

“Now is the time for businesses to reset their approach to health and wellbeing and set themselves up for a ‘Healthy Hybrid’ future that places a premium on good health for all. Our report shows that wellbeing and productivity – health and economic competitiveness – are two sides of the same coin. Corporate Britain needs both in order to recover and flourish.”

- Neville Koopowitz, CEO, Vitality

10 ways to ‘Healthy Hybrid’

As well as exploring the lessons learnt from the pandemic in relation to areas such as productivity, sedentary behaviour and mental health, the report also lays out 10 recommendations to employers to help build and embed ‘Healthy Hybrid’ ways of working into organisations. Here they are:

1. Close the expectation gap

The report highlights the gap between employer and employee expectations – and their ‘demand for different’ – can be closed with mandates that are integrated into Company Risk Registers and prioritised at board level. Action must come from the top down. Adding to this, reporting on health and wellbeing outcomes should be integrated into the frameworks executive boards use to hold CEOs to account for their performance.

2. Senior leaders must normalise ‘Healthy Hybrid’ behaviours

As leadership expert Margie Warrel argued, “there is no more powerful way to demonstrate the priority you put on mental health and wellbeing than how you take care of yourself3”. Senior leaders in particular must lead from the front by practising what they preach when it comes to wellbeing and normalising ‘Healthy Hybrid’ behaviour, according to the report.

3. Create ‘Healthy Hybrid’ feedback loops

According to senior leaders interviewed for the report, clear communication and shared safe spaces to discuss emerging issues have been a key part of their crisis management strategy, for both wellbeing and productivity purposes. Employee voice and representation can help provide employees with a shared space of their own to express concerns about management and unhealthy hybrid behaviour.

4. Promote inclusive productivity gains

Enhanced flexibility that allows for homeworking is clearly important for wellbeing and diversity and inclusion too, however it will take time for organisations to get it right. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it appears that a clear and quick win for senior leaders would be to draw up policies in collaboration with their teams, with clear guidelines that apply to all members of the team and therefore establish social norms.

5. Mandatory breaks and ‘right to disconnect’ policies are needed

Moves towards flexibility over time must be accompanied by greater protections against an unhealthy approach to work and productivity that can leave hybrid and homeworkers at a greater risk of burnout, warns the report. Research shows4 that positive behaviour changes, such a taking breaks – even for five minutes - can make a big difference. Therefore, five-minute breaks between meetings should be mandatory for all employees, particularly those working in home or hybrid settings, the report recommends.

6. Health and wellbeing policies must be inclusive

The key to a ‘Healthy Hybrid’ approach is to make sure employee benefit packages are inclusive across the variety of different locations where employees may conduct work – the office or face-to-face workplace, home, co-working spaces, the local coffee shop and community. As such, senior leaders should rethink entitlements – focusing on workers non workplaces, according to the report.

7. Schedule 30-minute movement breaks each day

The report discusses growing evidence that homeworking during the pandemic has created an ‘ergonomic timebomb’, with cramped and unsafe home offices driving poor musculoskeletal health. Managers and leaders should therefore look to draw up robust new preventative strategies that promote good posture, health and safety when working at home. Just 30 minutes movement a day would help all full-time employees meet the recommended target of at least 150 minutes a week set by the UK chief medical officer, the report highlights.

8. Measure wellbeing effectively and consistently

Effective and consistent wellbeing measurement is needed to radically level up ‘Healthy Hybrid’ behaviours and culture, the report finds. Accountability must go beyond CEOs and their formal reporting to boards, while technology today can capture a whole range of ways to measure wellbeing which can be aligned with performance management approaches, the report points out.

9. Be accountable for health and wellbeing mandates

Organisational structures must make it clear who is accountable for health and wellbeing mandates, and this must be reflected in training, the report highlights. Senior leaders could help do this by creating a designated head of health and wellbeing, ideally in the senior leadership team, it adds.

10. Track and publish data on hybrid workers’ pay and progression

It is vital that those who work from home and digitally dial in to meetings are not disadvantaged when it comes to promotion, pay and career progression. Any true ‘Healthy Hybrid’ approach must work in line with wider diversity and inclusion goals, whilst the potential for digital disadvantage should rank highly on any new risk register drawn up to secure a ‘Healthy Hybrid’ workplace culture, the report concludes.

Have you read the full ‘Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business’ report yet?

2. Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business report, RSA & Vitality, 2021
3. Warrel (2020) Mental Wellbeing: Leaders Must Prioritize Employee Mental Health – online - Forbes
4. Microsoft (2021) Research Proves Your Brain Needs Breaks. WTI Pulse report.

Where to next?

  • Vitality at Work

    Help your clients address some of the leading causes of workplace absence and provide their employees with some of the benefits of the Vitality Programme.

  • Healthy Hybrid Report

    An evaluation on the health impacts of lockdown and recommendations for businesses to reset their approach to health and wellbeing to create a new ‘healthy hybrid’ flexible working environment.

  • Insights Hub

    Our Insights Hub brings you our range of adviser content - from video series to articles & blogs.