Opeyemi Ogundeji, researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, details six key things employers should keep in mind before making a shift towards hybrid working.
A survey by the British Council for Offices shows that participants favour not only working from the office but also from home, creating a “hybrid” working arrangement which could soon take the spotlight from traditional working norms.
The idea of flexible working is not a new concept, however. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, eligible employees have always had the right to request flexibility from their employers. The flexibility can be in the form of:
flexi-time (for example requesting a change to start or finish times)
requesting to work at a different branch, or work from home
requesting a reduction in working hours.
Employees can make a request if they are an employee, have at least 26 weeks' continuous service at the date the application is made, and have not made a request for flexible working in the previous 12 months. That said, this right does not give employees the automatic right to flexible working on demand, but rather a right to submit a request to their employer who then either accepts or rejects the request — if the latter, sound business reasons must be given.
As a result of coronavirus, many employers may begin to see more of these requests. For those considering the option of hybrid working, here are six things that should be kept in mind before the shift is made.
Six things employers should be aware of about hybrid working
A hybrid working arrangement may not already be covered under existing policies so employers will need to actively think about how this arrangement will impact on the effectiveness of existing policies. This means that a new type of working arrangement may call for new policies, or revision of existing policies. The policies that employers may need to create, or revise, range from disciplinary and grievance to IT and employee monitoring.
Where existing staff are concerned, it may be difficult to change their employment contracts without their agreement — depending on what the contracts state about this. It is crucial that employers are checking staff contracts before moving them to a permanent hybrid working arrangement, otherwise this may give rise to breach of contract claims. For new hires, hybrid working can be incorporated into their contracts, if necessary, from the start of their employment.
Employers have a duty of care towards their staff and must ensure that the working environment, while they are in the office, is safe. This should remain a priority for hybrid staff as is it for staff who are fully situated in the workplace, as well as ensuring that they are given support for any mental health issues they may be facing. This support should be accessible both in the workplace and at home.
4. Managing teams
It is important to maintain communication with hybrid staff while they are working from home. This can be achieved by holding regular weekly/daily meetings with them either in person or remotely. Most importantly, to determine the effectiveness of the arrangement, staff should be given clear targets to work towards which can be evaluated during these regular meetings.
5. Training and development
Staff and managers should be well-equipped to transition to hybrid working and know what to expect from it. Training is also crucial to promote the successful delivery of their roles from two (or multiple) locations.
6. Communicating and collaborating effectively
Technology has likely been a useful tool for many, if not all, businesses in the 21st century. However, the pandemic has more than just shown us how useful it is but that we may come to depend on it a lot more in a post-coronavirus workplace, whether teams are working remotely, in the office, or somewhere in the middle.
With this in mind, employers may find themselves beginning to invest a lot more money over the years into advancing their technology and technological reach, as well as training staff to use this equipment successfully, if they are to embrace a hybrid workplace. Managers and team leaders, just as importantly as knowing how to use the technology, will need to learn new ways of communicating to manage their teams effectively; perhaps by increasing the frequency of communication in order to keep team members informed at all times.
That said, it is important to note that communicating and collaborating remotely, while more widespread in recent times, is not a new concept. Many businesses worldwide have had to adapt to remote working styles given the nature of their roles; for example, journalists who are covering a story abroad have had to communicate remotely with their teams back at their normal place of work. It is therefore not impossible for employees to work effectively while located away from their team and, even for a long-term arrangement, the right skills and steps put into place to mitigate barriers will allow for an effective remote team.
What does all this mean?
When all is said and done, employers are not legally obliged to implement hybrid working but it cannot be ignored that there is growing interest in it. Whether or not employers choose to implement hybrid working will depend on a thorough review of their business practices, how their employees may benefit from it, and how efficiently it can be rolled-out on a temporary/permanent basis.
There cannot be a general conclusion made as to whether hybrid working should be adopted by all businesses but those who do wish to accept it should ensure that the mechanisms in place encourage its success for both their business and staff.