Managers and directors are facing unique challenges post-pandemic, with a rise in the need for flexibility, employee well-being and resilience. Being adaptable and open to change is a necessity for all organisations but it can be particularly difficult for those managing staff in SMEs. With smaller teams, staff dynamics are often more pronounced, and changes can be met with uncertainty and affect morale.
Sophia Zand, Senior Associate in the employment team at Wilsons Solicitors has put together a ‘top tips’ style piece for our readers, detailing the best ways to manage smaller teams – especially when implementing changes to policy.
Generally, changes to team structures (including redundancies) and terms and conditions generally affect employee relations the most. A good example of this is the change in attitude towards remote working. With large organisations such as Google and Amazon calling staff back to the office, many smaller organisations are reviewing their existing policy on homeworking which has both legal and practical considerations. Employees have the right to make a flexible working request and refusing these requests can be difficult if remote working worked well during the pandemic and there are not sound business reasons for why that has now changed. Recent data shows there has been an increase in tribunals citing “remote working” in 2022 compared to the year before and this is likely to grow: we are expecting changes to the flexible working scheme in 2024 which will further benefit employees.
So how can directors and managers of smaller teams effectively navigate changes in the workplace? Here are our top 5 tips:
- Planning: consider the reason for the change and outline your objectives
Whilst this might seem obvious, changes that are poorly planned or not well thought out tend to be the most damaging to staff relations and the business overall. You should approach any proposed change as one that may be subject to legal challenge. Key factors to consider during the planning stage:
- What are the reasons and objectives for the proposed change?
- Does the organisation need to make the change now or are there other options available to meet its objectives?
- What impact will the proposed change have on staff?
- Can the impact be mitigated e.g. if the change is a requirement for staff to come to the office 3 days a week, can you offer other flexible incentives such as flexible hours?
- What questions will the employees raise in response to the proposed change?
- How will the change be implemented?
- Are there any legal processes that should be followed?
Make sure all internal documents mark the change as a “proposal” where there is a legal requirement to consult with staff prior to making a final decision on whether or not to implement the change. Internal communications can be disclosable as evidence in any subsequent employment tribunal claim unless protected by ‘privilege’.
- Risks: identify any risks and take advice
Identifying and mitigating the risks will be crucial, particularly where the organisation needs to comply with legal requirements. Consider:
- Taking legal advice on the proposed change and any relevant legal processes.
- Consider whether the organisation has any additional legal obligations to individual employees such as women on maternity leave.
- Review any potential discrimination risks.
- Anticipate resistance to change and how to address the concerns of team members who may be hesitant.
- Staff involvement: consider the appropriate level of staff input
In some situations, there will be a legal requirement to consult with staff about the change e.g. where there is a redundancy situation or a material change to terms and conditions and the employees have more than two years’ continuous employment. For changes that do not give rise to any legal obligation to consult with staff, it may still be appropriate to include your team in the change process by seeking their input, ideas and asking for their feedback. Involving them can lead to more “buy-in” overall.
- Communication: make sure your message is clear and consistent
Ensure that you have explained the reason for the proposed change to staff and that your communication is consistent throughout. If the rationale changes midway, employees may lose trust and confidence in the organisation and the process overall (which could result in additional risks). You should maintain ongoing communication throughout the change process and update team members on the progress so that they are kept informed.
- Documentation: ensure the change is documented
Where appropriate and necessary, at the end of any change process you should document the change. For example, if your organisation is rolling out a policy that requires staff to attend the workplace 3 days a week, this should be set out in a letter to all staff and any homeworking policy so that the organisation’s flexible work arrangements are clear.
All organisations will need to implement changes in the workplace, whether these changes are driven by technology, societal or economic shifts, but by implementing the tips above, you can help smaller teams navigate the transitions more smoothly and with less risk.