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9/27/2022 12:00:00 AM

Hybrid Working: 7 Essential Questions Every Employer Needs To Ask

Following the pandemic, there's been a well publicised drive to get workers back to the office; but also a recognition that this doesn't have to mean 9 to 5, 5 days a week. On the other hand, working solely from home is certainly on the way out.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the percentage of purely home-based workers fell from 22% to 14% from February to May of this year. In the same time period, the proportion of workers splitting their time between home and the office rose from just 13% to 24%.

“I can’t see it going back to how it was,” says HeadsTogether Director Joanne Kane. “I think the way people work has fundamentally shifted in a rather radical way in the last couple of years, and certainly we’re not really talking to any employers who are trying to get people back into the office five days a week.”

So now we've moved to a new way of working, essentially by default, what are the key issues employers should be looking at to avoid any risks, minimise disruption, and make the most of the benefits? Thinking about the answers to the following 7 questions would be a great start.

Question #1: Why bother? Why not get everyone back in, or just let them stay at home?

“A lot of people don’t want to go back into the office because they’ve developed a way of working whilst fitting the other aspects of their life around that,” explains Joanne. “And those who’re resisting coming back at all are often saying ‘well, I’ve just demonstrated that I can do this from home’. In some cases though employers are saying ‘well, no, this isn’t really working for us’, because there’s often this slightly intangible thing that gets lost when all business is being conducted from home through a screen. It’s just not the same as having someone in the room. So, it’s about trying to find some sort of blend, a hybrid approach that works for both parties.”

Question #2: What should the blend look like? 50:50? 40:60?

Roughly half what the old office based working pattern was is the common trend, but it’s not a case of one size fits all. Joanne says: “What a lot of organisations are doing is stating the minimum and maximum amount of time to be spent in the office and at home, and then saying, ‘if you have any particular set of circumstances where you need to consider something outside of that, come and talk to us on an individual basis’.”

Question #3: Then that’s it? Farewell to the office 9 to 5, Monday to Friday?

No, and this is something employers need to be mindful of. Particularly in sectors where it might be harder to maintain or to monitor productivity when work is taking place remotely, it’s important to build in checks, clearly indicating performance expectations and making it clear that the new model is subject to review. “In most instances, these things are being trialled rather than there being a declaration of a completely new way of working,” says Joanne. “And it’s important everyone is clear on that.”

“We’ve never had this situation before in terms of people just changing their work patterns without a system and a process to go through”

Question #4: Are there any risks I need to be mindful of with hybrid working?

Yes, particularly around contractual agreements and flexible working requests. Joanne explains: “Realistically most people are working to some sort of flexible working arrangement now, so their employment contracts are actually partially out of date. New working patterns will be setting precedents in terms of what is accepted and agreed in the future.”

Essentially for many businesses, flexible working has simply been adopted rather than formally requested. Where that can become problematic is around issues such as ‘what’s the formal standing of the arrangement?’, ‘can hybrid working be revoked at any time?’ and ‘are all parties clear on their contractual obligations?’

“We’ve never had this situation before in terms of people just changing their work patterns without a system and a process to go through,” warns Joanne. “And if there’s nothing written down, then what happens when the employer decides ‘no, this isn’t working for me?’”

Question #5: How can I address those risks? Do ALL contracts need renegotiating?

“Realistically the only thing that can happen is to go through contracts on an individual basis and compare that to what people are actually now doing,” reveals Joanne. “Does that mean a ‘renegotiation’? No, I would say it’s more a formalising of what the current arrangements are. But it’s a conversation that you do need to have.”

“Some employees are perched in living rooms and bedrooms, potentially paving the way for claims around back problems and workplace accidents.”

Question #6: Are employment contracts the only things out of date?

No, with home now an extension of the office there’s also a need to address for example how that home office is covered by health and safety legislation. As Joanne explains: “Previously when you received a flexible working request, best practice would be that you’d at least assess whether the person had an adequate workstation. Potentially there would be a conversation about whether any additional equipment was needed: a proper chair and so on; but right now that’s not really happening.”

In fact, one study recently revealed that just 28% of respondents have a dedicated work-from-home office space with others perched in living rooms and bedrooms, potentially paving the way for claims around back problems and workplace accidents.

“The Health and Safety Executive has an online tool that we would recommend to our clients when people are working from home,” advises Joanne. “Get employees to fill that in and, if it throws up anything, then look at it in further detail, but at least address the issue.” Also look at breaks and formalising the understanding that it’s the employee’s responsibility to take breaks in keeping with the working time directive.

Question #7: What else might I have overlooked?

Data protection is an issue. “In the last few years we’ve had so much discussion around data breaches but now people are sitting with laptops and confidential files at home,” says Joanne. “Employers need to think about providing locked filing cabinets and a policy on what people should be doing with their IT equipment and confidential papers when they’re not working.”

“There’s no one size fits all, but by sitting down and addressing these issues you can come to a working arrangement that suits everyone.”

Final thought

Having employees working from home in any format today, is not the same as it was in the height of the pandemic. “We’re in a different phase with these working arrangements now and if it’s not properly dealt with, then it does present employers with risks,” explains Joanne. Her takeaway recommendation is for all employers to create a specific working from home policy. “Not necessarily a whole new contract, if everything else is remaining the same, but a memo or an agreement as to what the new working arrangements are,” she says.

Everything should be covered, from health and safety to data protection, as well as a formalisation of issues like the permanence of the arrangement, when will it be reviewed, and aspects like mandatory attendance at group meetings on working from home days.

“There’s no one size fits all, but by sitting down and addressing these issues you can come to a working arrangement that suits everyone,” says Joanne.

Read more articles in News and Insights


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