Working practices have changed drastically since the lockdown. Hybrid working, in particular, has emerged as a popular compromise between the varying wants and preferences of employers and employees alike post-pandemic.
For employers, hybrid working can bring many benefits. It enables the employee to have greater focus on the task at hand with fewer interruptions and distractions, it can save on the costs of office space, and facilities costs such as electricity, it allows for a wider talent pool, creates opportunities for greater diversity and inclusive teams, and has been shown to increase productivity and employee retention.
For employees, hybrid working also offers advantages. It can improve employee work/life balance and, therefore, improves productivity and reduces absences from sickness. It can result in greater levels of job satisfaction, the potential to better optimise their time and the choice to work whenever they want.
While the flexibility offered by hybrid working is providing a more positive and collaborative approach to working arrangements, but it carries risk. If implementing hybrid working, you should look to create a separate hybrid working policy, as well as reviewing and adapting all related procedures and policies. This is most effectively achieved in consultation with employees and if relevant their representatives.
Why do you need a hybrid working policy?
The purpose of a hybrid working policy is to set out a legally-compliant and consistent framework for your organisation to implement hybrid working. The document should outline how hybrid working should work in practice, set limits aligned to operational matters, while allowing some flexibility and guidance for managers to accommodate specific circumstances at their discretion.
Having a clear hybrid working policy will help you set out what is and what is not possible in your post-pandemic workplace. When properly introduced and supported, it is likely hybrid working will lead to increased long-term benefits for both employers and staff.
Key issues to consider when drafting a hybrid working policy
When developing the policy, consider the following key points to ensure the policy has impact and supports best practice.
You will need to decide whether the policy will apply to all employees or whether it only applies to certain roles. If it applies only to some roles, you should ensure the policy clearly sets out those roles that are not eligible and any reasons for this.
A hybrid working policy must fit the culture of your business, or the one you want to promote, and aligns with your business’ mission and purpose.
Expectations for hybrid working
You should specify what your business expectations are regarding the division of time between office and other locations. An employer may expect full-time staff to spend at least 3 days in the workplace, for example, or expect them to divide their time 50/50 between the workplace and the other location.
You need to consider if there are any particular circumstances or situations where employees are expected to attend the workplace, such as in-person training, team meetings, or any related duties that must be conducted in the workplace. These could be done on set days, or if that does not suit your business model, determine how much advance notice would need to be given to employees to attend. Consideration must also be given as to when permanent office working may need to be re-introduced, for example, if there are wellbeing or performance concerns with the employee working remotely.
Setting out requirements as to where the remote work location can be and ensuring it adheres to confidentiality and data protection obligations should be covered in your hybrid working policy. Will they work at the employee’s home or are other locations permitted? Should the employee have to inform you or their manager if they are working from a venue that is not their home address? How should employees make sure that any other venue is secure to work from? There are also significant logistical and legal issues when allowing employees to work from abroad for weeks at a time, including immigration, tax, and data protection consequences.
Any expectations you have when employees are working from the office should be included here. For example, do you require your staff to work set hours or can those hours be flexible? Do you need to introduce a desk booking system? Think about creating core hours, when all employees should be available for work, and hours when they will not be required to work. Defined hours will help your staff to provide boundaries. There has been much said about the blurred lines between work and home, which has been a long-running issue for many.
It is also vital you clarify what happens regarding travel expenses to the workplace. Generally, travel to and from the workplace will not give rise to expenses, neither will it be counted towards working time, so your policy should clearly express the terms and reflect them appropriately.
Your hybrid working policy should cover:
- What equipment or technology you will provide (if any) and whether you will require access to undertake any maintenance checks on that equipment.
- How sickness absence will be reported when working from home
- Health and safety policies and procedures for employees whilst they are working from home, including risk assessments
- Data protection and computer/technological security policies for remote working
- If employees are required to be ‘available’ during set hours or whether a more flexible working approach can be taken.
Experience and tenure
You want to encourage your staff to grow and contribute more to the business and gain promotion. However, in doing so, you should consider whether this will impact their need to be in the office more. Think about changing work styles and identifying progression factors for each role.
Different experience levels and ages may present differing priorities and needs from workers. Younger or newer employees with less work experience or experience in the role are likely to need more time in the workplace than others for training and supervision. Who will be there to provide this?
Other forms of flexible working
A hybrid working policy is intended to rest beside other flexible working policies. Therefore, your policy should set out what other types of flexible working options are open to employees, such as making a formal flexible working request, for example.
Implementing a hybrid working policy
Employers should consider the following steps when implementing their new hybrid working policy:
By getting feedback from your employees before implementing your hybrid working policy allows any concerns or consideration to be highlighted and addressed. And is a good way to make sure they are fully on board with the policy. It is also good practice to consult any trade unions or employee representatives and consider their feedback on what is proposed.
Supporting managers and training
It goes without saying that implementing hybrid working will certainly change a manager’s role and provide them with new and additional challenges. You should consider offering training and guidance so they can develop the skills needed to deliver effective performance management, communication, and relationship building in teams that are working both in the office and from home.
Any company thinking about implementing hybrid working will have to consider how it communicates with employees both in and out of the workplace. To get around that, you may decide to hold team meetings online as a default and only conduct in-person meetings when it is appropriate and suitable for the whole team.
Communication is absolutely vital for the triumphant introduction of a hybrid working policy. Badly communicated expectations together with ineffective messaging are likely to lead to misunderstandings. This could end up affecting productivity and team morale. The initial step to building an effective communication strategy is taking the time to evaluate your employee’s needs. Think about:
- How you communicate daily tasks to your employees, and how they communicate them to their wider team
- How you conduct one-on-one conversations
- What equipment/software do you need when communicating remotely. Are they effective?
Creating a communication plan
Employee feedback is essential. There should be announcements and meetings covering changes so that employees feel they are part of the process. Once you have decided on the best communication plan for your organisation, you should implement that strategy. After a month or two, consider assessing the results of the communication plan. You may find there are further things you can improve or refine.
Getting your hybrid working policy wrong: a case study
Even the biggest organisations can get it wrong. On 21st June 2021, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, emailed all Apple employees asking them to return to the office in early September. The email went on to say that it expected staff to “be present in the office for at least three days a week”. Tim Cook is firmly of the opinion that video conferencing cannot replace face-to-face collaboration, however, he was prepared to compromise and told staff they would be provided with the opportunity to work remotely for two weeks per year.
Despite the offer of remote working, Apple employees were far from happy, some even resigned. A group of them got together and produced a letter outlining their issues. Amongst other things, it said: “without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being part of Apple.”
This is a salutary tale of executives failing to acknowledge how their employees successfully delivered excellent work during a pandemic. It also shows a complete lack of consideration for employee autonomy. And for those who had enjoyed a considerable amount of autonomy during the pandemic with no adverse results, they felt understandably aggrieved. Apple employees believed the calls to return to the workplace were less about in-person collaboration and more about its desire to control. In the end, Apple had no other choice but to back down.
Legal implications for implementing hybrid working
Businesses should give careful consideration to any contractual implications of hybrid working. If employees make a formal request for hybrid working through the flexible working policy, and the request is granted, it will amount to a formal change to the employee’s terms and conditions of employment. Hybrid working, including other forms of flexible working, can also be worked informally with no contractual changes, but you should ensure that your employees (and managers) understand the differences and the implications of them both.
Contracts of employment should also contain a contractual location. Although this does not necessarily change because of hybrid working, employees who work permanently from home will usually have their home address as their place of work.
Employees need to be advised to discuss any implications of homeworking with their landlords or mortgage provider and house insurer as there may be restrictions which invalidate or breach certain agreements. As previously stated, there may also be tax implications for working from home if an employee wishes to work outside the UK.
In the long term, working from home is likely to support improved wellbeing by reducing commuting times, providing employees with greater autonomy around their schedules, and extra time at the beginning and end of their working day. However, hybrid working may also bring specific challenges around work/life balance and managing the boundaries between work and home. Some employees may also feel isolated and alone. The following may be helpful:
- Providing training and support to employees on managing work/life balance whilst working from home
- Offering training on digital wellbeing and promote healthy habits in relation to the use of technology, this includes helping employees to “mindfully disconnect”
- Helping managers to understand the potential implications for wellbeing of working remotely and equipping them to have appropriate wellbeing conversations
- Providing ongoing mental health support and information for all employees
- Ensuring all managers are aware of the potential signs and symptoms of poor mental health or wellbeing.
DavidsonMorris’s HR specialists support employers will all aspects of workforce management, engagement and communications, working closely with our employment law colleagues. If you are using hybrid working arrangements and have any queries about the implications on contractual terms and how to implement changes within the workplace, speak to us to ensure you are meeting your legal obligations while promoting positive workforce relations.
Hybrid policy FAQs
What should a hybrid work policy include?
A hybrid working policy should include eligibility criteria, employee/employer expectations, how many hours the employee is expected to work each day, including their core hours, and if or when they are required to attend the workplace.
What is a hybrid working?
Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee divides their time between their place of work and, usually, their home.
Last updated: 3 October 2021