England: Housing association switches to permanent homeworking model

A housing association has become the first in the UK to announce a permanent move to a hybrid working model and will offer interest free loans to its 700 colleagues to create defined workspaces in their homes.

Stonewater said the move follows the outstanding success of homeworking during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the organisation’s agility and investment in digital transformation prior to the pandemic meant it was well-positioned to respond quickly and switch to homeworking for the majority of its colleagues within 24 hours of the first lockdown.

By continuing to develop and invest in new virtual processes and pathways for its home-based model, the organisation said it continued to provide a first-class customer experience, which has managed not just to meet, but to surpass, pre-set targets against a backdrop of national upheaval and uncertainty.

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.”

During the past 12 months, Stonewater introduced new processes such as virtual sign ups, handed over a total of 671 new homes to customers and completed on more than 200 shared ownership home sales.

Contracts have also been exchanged on a further 1,510 properties which are being built for future customers. Homes have been re-let, on average, in just 20 days, five days ahead of target, helping to give families a safe and secure future.

The organisation has also met stringent governance and viability standards to maintain its G1/V1 regulatory status and A1 credit rating.

The successes of the past year, coupled with a recent survey which revealed 89 per cent of colleagues want to continue working from home, has led Stonewater to develop a brand-new hybrid working model.

While the organisation will remain predominantly home-based, Stonewater hubs will be set up in Coventry, Reading and Bournemouth. These will provide flexible workspace for co-working, one-to-one meetings and catch-ups.

Rather than Stonewater reverting back to a traditional ‘desk model’, colleagues will also be encouraged to network and collaborate across different areas of the business – as opposed to only working with individuals from their teams – by working locally from social and community spaces.

To ensure that all colleagues have the provision to be based from home long term, the organisation is offering all permanent employees an interest free loan of up to £10,000 to create a safe and healthy designated work space in their home environment. This could involve altering a room, building an extension or creating a suitable office in the garden.

Loan repayments will be deducted through a colleague’s monthly salary over three to five years.

Nicholas 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.”

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