Switching to homeworking during the pandemic was a culture shock for many, but NEC Europe – part of Japan-based ICT solutions company NEC Corporation – found the transition relatively easy, having already implemented hybrid working, or ‘smart working’ back in April 2019.

It's about being more aware and watching changes in behaviour. A lot of people don't put their cameras on during video meetings, so it's about making sure managers have one-to-ones with staff."

Meera De Sa, Head of HR at NEC Europe

Office space at Ruislip was reduced, explains Meera De Sa, Head of HR, UK and Carrier. ‘As a result, we introduced “smart working”, where most people work from the office three days a week and two days from home. 

One of the biggest shifts was learning how to manage teams differently, and the company set up management training before going live. ‘It’s different managing remotely,’ says Meera. ‘The way they were setting objectives had to change.’

As the company is introducing smart working into other offices, some managers still have concerns about measuring employees’ output. Meera says it comes down to setting expectations. ‘One of our managers raised the point about trust, but if a person isn’t going to work at home, then that same person isn’t going to work in the office either. You need to measure their output, so it doesn’t matter when he or she does their job, as long as they are not missing deadlines.’

Being aware of different employees’ home circumstances is also a crucial consideration for managers. ‘We’ve done a lot on health and wellbeing,’ says Meera. ‘It’s about being more aware and watching changes in behaviour. A lot of people don’t put their cameras on during video meetings, so it’s about making sure managers have one-to-ones with staff.’

Overall, smart working at the Ruislip office has been a success: staff engagement is up, and work-life balance has ultimately improved. It has also helped open up the talent pool when recruiting – Meera says the calibre of CVs is far better since they started smart working – and has benefited families enormously. ‘Organisations like banks, which never would have considered homeworking before, are implementing one or two days from home, so both parents can be involved in childcare,’ she says.

With staff allowed to return to the office in August 2021, it may involve increasing the two days working from home to three in the short term, she says. Through this, the office will change function, providing a central hub where employees can connect with their team, and smart workers will be able to book a desk in advance through a central system. ‘I think people will come into the office for a purpose now. We will be a lot more efficient with our time,’ says Meera. 

To sweeten the permanent move to smart working, the company also introduced a smart allowance to help towards the costs of home heating and electricity on 1 July 2021. ‘Smart workers now receive an ongoing taxable allowance of £4 per day for the days they choose to work from home based on 45 weeks per year,’ says Meera. ‘It’s a little “thank you” to staff.’

For other companies looking to switch permanently to hybrid working, Meera says success lies in communication. ‘Let your staff be part of the decision-making. Some parts of the business that were more reluctant to adopt smart working are understanding that, as long as you trust your employees, it will work.’

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