Matt Elliot image

Don’t underestimate how difficult coming back into the office will be for many people. We’ve seen the physical impact of COVID-19, but I don’t think we’ve seen the start yet of the mental wellbeing impact, so I would really encourage the alignment of health and wellbeing with the return to work.

Matt Elliott

Chief People Officer, Bank of Ireland

By early 2020, around 3,500 Bank of Ireland employees were working with some degree of flexibility about where they work, but there was an ambition to do more. ‘That was partly due to a reticence to work differently,’ Matt says. ‘There was a concern that maybe if you aren’t seen to do the work, the work won’t be valued.’

‘People have got confidence now that they will be judged on the output of their work, not on the input of it and I think that’s a crucial distinction, and one that, culturally, we knew we needed to change,’ he says. ‘That is good for merit-based outcomes for colleagues when it comes to their career progression.’

Matt says the pandemic has helped the company ‘reconnect with society and the role that we play’ and allowed HR to rethink its role. ‘We used to talk about the focus of HR around business performance, but we’ve re-established the caring side of HR,’ he says. ‘And we should care for our people – we should support our people caring for each other too – and these are areas that we weren’t in as strongly as we should have been.’

With more than three-quarters of their staff wanting to work at home between 25% and 75% of their working week, the Bank of Ireland is firmly committed to supporting flexible working as society reopens. Whilst this still revolves around a physical workspace, there are some big differences. Its new hybrid working model includes access to a network of 11 remote-working hubs where employees will be able to book a desk.

The central office still has an important role to play, with large office buildings being redesigned to facilitate meetings and collaboration, while remote locations will be more suitable for task-based work.

While hybrid working has been almost universally well-received by employees (only 9% wanted to return to the office every day), there are likely to be bumps in the road. For example, Matt suggests there may be issues with inclusivity if employees are not physically in the room during meetings. But there are also concerns about employees’ mental health to consider.

‘Don’t underestimate how difficult coming back into the office will be for many people,’ he says. ‘We’ve seen the physical impact of COVID-19, but I don’t think we’ve seen the start yet of the mental wellbeing impact, so I would really encourage the alignment of health and wellbeing with the return to work.'

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