Thursday, 24 June 2021
Many businesses are considering allowing staff to continue working from home at least some of the time and after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted. Read on for the key elements of an effective hybrid working policy.
The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on working practices at businesses across the UK. A survey by the Office for National Statistics shows that 36% of employees worked from home last year compared with 5% before the pandemic.
YouGov research also shows that a majority of employees would prefer to continue working from home at least some of the time. Many employees value the flexibility that homeworking can offer, for example if they have parental or other caring responsibilities, and the fact that they can spend less time (and money) commuting. Additionally, businesses may find it easier to meet coronavirus safety requirements with lower staff numbers in the workplace.
Lily Asumadu, Employment Law and HR Consultant at NatWest Mentor, says that employers need to ensure that any hybrid working policy is formulated in the right way, balancing the needs of the business with those of its employees, setting out clearly how it will be implemented.
“Some clients are now incorporating a hybrid structure, but typically this has not been formalised with an official policy,” Asumadu explains. “The consensus is that businesses are waiting to see how government guidance develops prior to taking any further steps.”
She points out that businesses that fail to develop and implement a hybrid working policy face considerable risks:
Read this article for more information on the legal implications of hybrid working.
“The starting point should involve the employer assessing which roles would be considered for hybrid working,” Asumadu says. “In a construction business, for example, they might have just a couple of office workers and the majority of their employees working on site.”
Current official Covid-19 guidelines on social distancing should also be considered. “Clients without a large office space may need to introduce a rota system,” says Asumadu. “A clear policy would also need to need to state very specifically which roles would be eligible for hybrid working, and how employees can apply to work remotely.”
Any major changes to working practices should be devised in collaboration with your employees, Asumadu says. “I would normally recommend putting together a questionnaire covering issues such as what working hours are suitable, and asking questions about the key components of the new hybrid working policy,” she explains. “This would help you take employees’ views into account and to understand what their concerns are.”
Any hybrid working policy should include a clear and effective communication plan, including scheduled conversations between staff and their managers to discuss their expectations of how to split time between home and the office.
“If these requirements are left vague, it would be very difficult to rely on them in the case of litigation,” Asumadu says. “The policy should also allow for concerns to be raised on a one-to-one basis, so it should have a section that sets out how employees can raise issues directly with senior members of staff.”
Hybrid working is likely to have implications for other employment policies, such as privacy or data security, Asumadu points out. “I would expect to see documents referencing GDPR obligations,” she says. “With the introduction of hybrid working, there will probably be new ways of managing data, so these need to be reviewed to ensure compliance. Failure to do so could result in serious litigation issues.”
With government guidelines on safe working constantly changing in response to the pandemic, hybrid working policies need to be reviewed much more regularly than most other policies, Asumadu recommends. “Employers should make a point to update their policies as and when there are changes in the official guidelines, as well as each time the requirements of the business change.
“The most up-to-date version of the policy needs to be shared with employees once reviewed.”