As the sector emerges from COVID-19 lockdowns, the challenge of maintaining a positive balance between workplace safety and business efficiency has been on the minds of leadership teams.
Speaking to SBCNews, Mark Skinner, Chief People Officer at William Hill, discussed the company’s ‘Balance Project’, a hybrid working strategy informed by employee feedback, with the objective of creating a safe and flexible office environment.
SBC – Can you provide us a general breakdown and overview of the Balance Project?
Mark Skinner (Chief People Officer at William Hill): Our overall people strategy is for us to get talented people to want to join William Hill and love to stay with us.
This is what we call our ‘people ambition’, and within this ambition there are three pillars – Balance, creating a hybrid working environment; Belonging, focusing around diversity and inclusion; and Building, which concerns talent development.
Balance is a hybrid working model for all William HIll colleagues, and was born out of a number of internal surveys and the Big Conversation. We’ve used colleague feedback on how our employees wanted to return to work post-pandemic. We want to give colleagues a choice on how they want to spend their time. Under Balance, our employees can work from home up to 80% of the time, certainly in the UK offices, and they get to choose when they come into the office.
SBC – What are the unique dynamics and factors that you have to identify and consider when returning a workforce back to the office environment?
MS: The first focus was on ensuring colleague safety, and making colleagues feel safe when returning to an office. The UK is a difficult case due to the work from home message being lifted by the government, coinciding with rising cases – the main challenge from this is how do we create that safe environment?
Another factor to consider is around ensuring that people still feel connected to the organisation and as well as recognising the value of coming into the office and spending time with their colleagues.
We’ve learned to work virtually across a number of different roles, and a challenge now is that when some people are in the office and others are working from home, we need to make people people included. Some of the more recent training we have been rolling out to leaders is helping them manage and be more considerate of the people who are outside of the physical room, as it’s a very different dynamic to when everyone is about in the office.
SBC – Can you really train staff and talent on a 80% work-from home directive? From your HR experience can you nurture and develop talent under work-from-home conditions?
MS: Ultimately it’s not a directive, it’s about a choice and focuses on developing and enhancing what is already a high-trust culture. Some people may choose to come into the office, some people might want to come in and collaborate with their colleagues – that is ultimately their choice.
On talent development – we have proved very much that we can do that remotely. When we are doing learning and development events they are across multiple locations and are done virtually anyway. If it’s a day workshop, it will be okay to ask people to come in and do that. We need to be more thoughtful with asking people when and how to come in – can it be done virtually first?
Ultimately our culture is one of collaboration and connectedness and belonging. We want people to feel as though there is a William Hill family that they are so committed to and they’re not always remote.
SBC – What are the special considerations for younger employees or those in ‘special situations’
MS: This is the beauty of our non-rigid approach. During the first lockdown, we found that younger people who did not have the room to work from home – such as those living in house shares or small apartments and who did not have space for office setups – struggled with fiscal working and mental health.
We have given people the opportunity to come into the office when they can. Choice is at the heart of this and we want people to feel empowered. Also, people who are in training or graduate programmes may want to spend more time in an office to help with their learning and getting to understand the environment.
SBC – Where do you sit on the debate about companies enforcing staff to return to the office?
MS: I can’t really address other companies’ rationale for wanting to do that. It’s down to each organisation to decide what is best for their employees, and this flexible model works best for us. By speaking to our colleagues and reflecting what they have told us, offering this kind of flexible model works both for us as a business and also for our colleagues.