Stonewater announces permanent move to hybrid working

Stonewater will launch the business-wide working model alongside new interest-free loans to help staff create their own home workspaces.
Vaughn Atkinson, Stonewater's commercial services co-ordinator, working from home.

The national social housing provider Stonewater has announced it will move permanently to a hybrid working model, a first for the social housing sector.

The 33,600-home landlord will launch the organisation-wide working model alongside new interest-free loans to help staff create a defined workspace in their homes.

The announcement makes Stonewater the first housing provider to announce a permanent move to hybrid working, which combines remote working with flexible workspaces.

Stonewater has attributed its decision to the “outstanding success of home working during the COVID-19 pandemic”, which saw the majority of its staff switch to home working within 24 hours of the first national lockdown last March.

Nicholas Harris, chief executive at Stonewater, said: “A year ago we had no choice but to quickly move to homeworking when the pandemic took hold. Despite these challenging times, we’ve found new innovative ways of working that have enabled us to better connect with our customers and provided a customer service that has exceeded targets.

“By adopting a hybrid model, we are able to build on the learnings from the last year and retain the key benefits such as more flexibility and a better work-life balance for colleagues, whilst still being able to deliver on our customer promise.”

Stonewater said that its investment in digital transformation prior to the pandemic has allowed it to surpass pre-set targets “against a backdrop of national upheaval and uncertainty”.

The housing association eventually decided to develop the new working model after a recent survey revealed that 89% of staff want to continue working from home.

The organisation will remain predominantly home-based but will set up “hubs” in Coventry, Reading and Bournemouth to provide flexible workspace for co-working, catch-ups and one-to-one meetings.

Staff will also be encouraged to work locally from social and community spaces, allowing them to collaborate across the business instead of working solely with individuals from their respective teams.

To support their employees to work from home long-term, Stonewater will offer all its permanent staff interest-free loans of up to £10,000 to create a designated workspace in their home environment such as by altering a room or building an extension.

Staff who decide to accept the offer will have loan payments deducted from their monthly salary for the next three to five years.

Harris added: “The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to re-imagine our business and develop a culture built on trust where our colleagues are managed in terms of output rather than attendance. All whilst offering much greater flexibility and paying close attention to the wellbeing of colleagues that we now don’t see in-person every day.

“We firmly believe that the new model we have developed is the way forward for Stonewater.”

Stonewater’s announcement follows the publication of a series of studies exploring the impact of home working on English social housing during the pandemic.

The first study, carried out last summer, found that a pivot to remote working could potentially save employees thousands of pounds and weeks’ worth of time per year, while also cutting housing associations’ carbon footprints.

Issue 2 of Housing Executive featured a piece reflecting on the second study, which explored how tenants have perceived the move to home working.

Image: Vaughn Atkinson, Stonewater’s commercial services co-ordinator, working from his home office. Credit: Stonewater.

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