Case study: Hybrid working in a post-covid world

Following the outstanding success of homeworking during the COVID pandemic, social housing provider Stonewater has accelerated plans to shakeup working patterns and continue its shift to more digital ways of working.

With more than 700 colleagues that embody its values of being ambitious, passionate, agile, commercial and ethical, for the third consecutive year we have maintained a ‘One Star’ rating in the 2021 Top 100 Best Companies to work for (Southeast and Midlands) and made the list for the top 25 best housing associations to work for in the UK – despite the impact of COVID and organisation wide restructuring.

As part of our COVID response, Stonewater moved to homeworking for most of its colleagues in the first lockdown and introduced a pulse survey centred around the definition of wellbeing to help colleagues reflect on how happy, healthy and comfortable they feel – signposting them to appropriate resources, support, guidance and employee benefits.

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The challenge

The introduction of hybrid working was a key ambition of our longer-term strategy and future operating model (FOM) prior to the pandemic.

As a result of its early investment in digital transformation, the organisation was well positioned to switch to homeworking and continue providing a first-class customer experience, which managed to not just meet, but to surpass, pre-set targets.

Having seen how beneficial a home-based organisation could be for colleagues and customers alike, we wanted to capture and build on these benefits in a post-pandemic world – bouncing forwards, not backwards.

For many colleagues and customers home has a new meaning – becoming both a sanctuary and a workplace. To ensure the long-term success of homeworking we needed to reimagine what additional support it needed to provide to ensure the organisation remains a great place to work for everyone.


The method

The decision to implement a permanent move to homeworking was supported by a survey that revealed 89% of colleagues wanted to continue working from home with future workspaces shaped around providing opportunities for co-working.

Rather than reverting back to a ‘traditional desk model’, the organisation launched a brand-new hybrid working model aiming to give colleagues the flexibility to manage their day in a way that suits them and their families, closing the gap between ‘corporate’ and ‘customer’ and promoting people over process.

Already moving away from operational offices prior to the pandemic, through our office rationalisation programme, three Stonewater hubs are being set up in key locations to provide colleagues with the option to access flexible workspace.

Moving forward, colleagues will be encouraged to work from social and community spaces, with Stonewater developing a directory that colleagues can update and ‘rate the space’ – increasing connectivity between colleagues as they develop networks based on locality rather than function.  

With most colleagues remaining predominantly home-based, to ensure that all colleagues have the provision to work from home permanently, we have introduced a range of policies, collaborative platforms, and benefits including the offer to all permanent employees of an interest free loan. 

Colleagues can apply for up to £10,000 to create a designated workspace in their home environment to give colleagues a more clearly defined separation between work and home life to support their long-term wellbeing. This could include altering a room, building an extension or creating a suitable office in the garden. 


The result

During all the uncertainties of 2020, Stonewater found that it could offer ‘business as usual’ whilst improving its corporate key performance indicators (KPIs) and maintaining high levels of colleague engagement.

For us, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change in enabling the organisation to continue its journey towards its FOM.

As part of this transition, we have invested in its teams by initiating people development programmes around emotional intelligence and value-based leadership, which interlinks closely with our company-wide Customer Promise programme.

We are committed to this decision and prepared to continue to work with colleagues to find the right solutions and new ways of working.

Colleague health, safety and wellbeing has never been so important now that we don’t see each other in-person every day, but we firmly believe that the new model we have developed is the way forward for our organisation.


Jenny Sawyer is director of people, culture and change at Stonewater