The majority of Scottish employers are failing to support line managers in the skills of supervising remote workers, even though more than eight in 10 believe staff are more likely to work flexible hours as a result of the pandemic.

A snap poll of more than 100 Scottish businesses leaders and senior managers by Flexibility Works found that nearly two years after the first lockdown restrictions were imposed, just 31% of organisations had introduced any additional support or training for those managing remote workers. Almost two-thirds – 61% – have offered nothing at all.

This despite the fact that 85% think their employees are now more likely to work flexible hours, while 83% believe staff will more likely work from a mix of locations.

Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director of social enterprise Flexibility Works, said it was encouraging that so many employers envisage an increase in flexible working. However, much of this could end in “failure and disillusion” if the proper support isn’t put in place.

“Line managers are the lynchpins of flexible working,” Ms Slowey said. “They usually agree changes to work patterns and manage people working in different places at different times.

“They need to be equipped to have honest – and sometimes difficult – conversations, and know how to handle new processes and communicate in different ways.”

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However, she added that they also need to “buy in” to new ways of working. This includes understanding the long-term benefits of flexibility, being open-minded about solutions, and trusting employees to decide for themselves when and where they do their best work.

Although studies have repeatedly suggested that employees can be as or more productive from outside the office, human resources experts say many managers have felt a loss of control compared to pre-pandemic times. Mid-to-upper level staff thus tend to be more keen on a return to the office versus those on lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

Amanda Harrison, head of HR consultancy at Centrica, said “fantastic principles” fail to matter if conversations between managers and employees fail at a practical level.

A major employer in Scotland, the energy giant is working to embed greater flexible working into its long-term “new norm”. To help its line managers, the company has created virtual “personas” for distinct groups of employees who work in similar ways, allowing supervisors to come up with the right solutions for individuals and teams.

“We need our managers to feel confident and equipped to have different conversations with their teams about performance and focusing on the customer whilst working flexibly,” Ms Harrison said. “And they need to feel supported and equipped to do this.”

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Meanwhile, the data from employers also showed that half have no systems in place to monitor new ways of working, making it difficult for leaders to determine whether changes should be kept, extended or brought to an end.

With employee expectations higher than ever about the likelihood for greater control over their working lives, Ms Slowey warned that organisations failing to meet these prospects will struggle to get the best from staff. They will also find it difficult to recruit and retain new workers.

A survey published last month by Westfield Health uncovered a “widespread sense of unrest” across the UK workforce, with more than half considering a change of job and a third saying a move is imminent. The findings come as the labour market already faces large-scale shortages.

“We’re hearing of more people leaving for better flexibility elsewhere, or even applying for other jobs simply to leverage better working conditions with their current employer,” Ms Slowey said.

“Employers can have wonderful policies around flex, and with full buy-in from the executive board, but if they don’t take the time to ensure line managers understand what it’s all about, they could wind up with employees gravitating back to the office Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm because they’re following the example, or inference, from line managers who feel more comfortable managing the ‘traditional’ way.”