Hybrid working offers a new workforce solution for employers adapting to the new, post-pandemic normal. The coronavirus pandemic caused employers to radically rethink traditional working arrangements. As we emerge from an extended period of enforced remote working, employers are reaching the conclusion that working from home or on a remote basis is both productive and brings many other benefits for the employer and employee.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working involves employees dividing their working time between the home and their workplace. Although this is not a new concept and existed prior to the pandemic, it has become prolific in recent times.
Employees may have been successfully working from home over the last 18 months and may like to continue to do so. Perhaps they are anxious about a proposed return to the workplace. Hybrid working could resolve these types of issues and allows an employee to maintain a certain level of office attendance whilst also working from home.
Pros of hybrid working
As more and more workplaces open up, employees may be considering their long-term career goals and job flexibility could be a crucial aspect of this. Hybrid working could therefore be a solution.
Increased flexibility is likely to be a vote-winner with employees as it will help them improve their work / life balance, which is something that is becoming more and more popular with both younger and more senior workforces. Flexibility is also likely to improve and maintain staff morale, increase productivity, and retain staff. The last is particularly pertinent where employees are anxious about a full-time return to the office.
Additionally, whilst one employer may not be willing to explore the benefits of hybrid working options, competitors may be only too willing to do so.
Cons of hybrid working
Hybrid working may not suit every business, some roles may be difficult to perform at home, even on a part-time basis. Employers will need to take this into consideration. There is also the possibility of employees who are working from home feeling isolated. Although, hybrid working is likely to mitigate feelings of isolation, at least on a part-time basis.
It may be more difficult to manage employees remotely, and employees may view the days when they are working from home as a time when they can take it a little easier. It is therefore essential to ensure management monitor staff in these situations and be prepared to take further action should issues in productivity continue to be problematic.
There may be some employees that do not wish to work from home who do not relish the prospect of hybrid working, and they may feel demotivated by a push to do so. It is therefore essential employers keep all employees in mind when making decisions about working practices.
The law on hybrid working
Companies will need to give meticulous thought to the contractual implications surrounding the implementation of hybrid working. Where employees make a formal request for hybrid working through an existing flexible work policy, and the request is granted, this will constitute a formal change to their terms and conditions of employment.
Hybrid working, indeed, any other forms of flexible working, can be undertaken on an informal basis without requiring contractual changes being made. However, employers should make employees aware they understand the differences and the implications of both.
Employment contracts should also contain a contractual location. This does not necessarily change for those employees undertaking hybrid working, but for those employees who are working permanently from home, they should have their home address listed as their workplace within their contract.
Employers should also advise their employees to discuss any potential implications of working from home with their landlord, mortgage provider and house insurer. There may also be tax and immigration implications for employees who work remotely from outside the UK.
Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working
Policies and procedures
Hybrid working arrangements may not be covered under an employer’s existing policies, so they will need to think about how this new arrangement will impact the effectiveness of those policies. It may well mean that new policies, or revision of existing ones will need to take place. These range from disciplinary, grievance, IT, and employee monitoring.
When developing policies and procedures, businesses should consider the following:
- Set out who or which type of role/employee is suitable/eligible for hybrid working
- Set out how hybrid working is requested
- Clarify responsibilities and roles for hybrid workers and managers
- Detail how hybrid working dovetails with other forms of flexible working
- Review other related policies including expenses, IT usage, home working and data protection.
Contracts of employment
For existing members of staff, in the event of them not agreeing to any changes, it may be difficult to change their employment contracts, depending on whether the contract has variation clauses. It is crucial if claims in employment tribunals are to be avoided, that employers check their employment contracts prior to moving employees onto a permanent hybrid working model. Failure to do so may result in a breach of contract claim. For new incoming staff, hybrid working can be incorporated into their contracts from the beginning.
Employers have a duty of care towards all their employees and must therefore make sure that their working environment, while they are in the workplace, is safe. This remains a priority for hybrid workers, as much as for those workers who remain in the office. Support for any mental health issues they may be facing should be accessible both in the workplace and at home.
It is essential to maintain an open line of communication with hybrid employees whilst they are working from home. This could be achieved, for example, by holding regular weekday/weekly meetings with them either remotely or in person. In order to determine the effectiveness of hybrid working, employees should be given clear attainment targets which can be evaluated during regular meetings as described a above.
Training and development
Both employers and managers should equip themselves to transition to hybrid working and know what to expect from such arrangements. Training is also an essential part of promoting the successful delivery of employees’ roles from two or more locations.
Managers will need information, guidance, and training to ensure diversity and inclusion, effective onboarding, and employee engagement within a disparate team.
Arguably, although hybrid working is likely to make additional ongoing demands on managers, during lockdown they have at least already had an opportunity to develop some new skills managing a remote workforce, so can hit the ground running.
Communication and collaborative working
Communicating and collaborating remotely is not a new concept. Many companies have had to adapt to such arrangements. For example, journalists who are covering a story abroad have to communicate with their teams back at home. It is therefore not impossible for employees to work effectively away from their team. Even in the long-term, putting the right steps and processes into place to mitigate barriers to remote or hybrid working makes the case for improving employees work experience.
The following should be considered for effective hybrid communication:
- Hold meetings online by default. This helps to ensure that each employee attending has a consistent experience. Be aware that when employees who work face-to-face have in-person meetings and hybrid workers attend remotely, it can cause ‘presence disparity’ where employees experience the meeting differently.
- This can cause disruption to communication.
- Teams should be encouraged and supported to establish their own methods and principles for communication. This may or may not include whether they have periodical face-to-face meetings, and what technology is used. Giving teams such freedoms allows individuals to have more flexibility in their schedule, as well as location flexibility, and reduces online meeting time.
- Create regular social and human face-to-face interaction opportunities to support engagement and team building. This could be a monthly social event, such as bowling, or a round of crazy golf.
Technology and equipment
There are no two ways about it, technology plays a critical role in hybrid working. Staff need to be able to work seamlessly between their home and the workplace, which means excellent connectivity is required between the two. Besides technology, consideration should be given to other equipment an employee working from home may need. This may include the provision of things such as laptops, wired computers, office furniture or mobile devices.
Hybrid working policy
A hybrid working policy should include guidance on areas such as:
- An explanation of the concept of hybrid working at the start of the policy document
- Definition as to who is eligible for hybrid working
- Set out expectations for attending the workplace versus working remotely
- Include workplace arrangements for attendance in the workplace
- Provide detailed guidance on remote working
- Retain the right to request flexible working
What are the alternatives to hybrid working?
Hybrid working may not be for every business, but where an employer chooses not to adopt such an option, they should carefully consider their reasons for not offering it. It is likely to put an employer in a better position if they can clearly outline these to their staff.
Following lockdown, some employees may wish to continue working from home, at least part-time, they may feel they have successfully achieved this over the last 18 months and it has worked well. As a result, they may be tempted to seek alternative employment with a competitor if their employer is welded to their decision to have the whole workforce back in the office.
In the absence of offering hybrid working options, companies could consider alternative working arrangements that also offer flexibility, including:
- Staggering start and finish times, for example, allowing employees to come in later or finish earlier
- Implementing ‘flexi-time’, where employees are able to work fewer hours one day but make it up at a later date
- Increasing annual leave entitlement, for example implementing buying and selling leave options
- Consider job-sharing or part-time working options
Obviously, any flexible working options whilst solving one issue create another. It can be administratively onerous keeping tabs on which employee left early one day, how many hours they need to make up, and when/if they have done it. The same goes for staggered start and finish times.
Additionally, changes of the type described above would result in a change to employees’ terms and conditions. This means for full implementation, employees’ agreement will need to be obtained. For the employees part, they may pursue this sort of change by submitting a flexible working request. The normal rules surrounding these must be adhered to.
Outside flexible working, there are other areas that can encourage continued staff retention. These include:
- Consider implementing pay rises
- Providing a bonus scheme
- Taking steps to offer paid training opportunities
- Offer workplace perks such as vouchers, social events, dress-down days
DavidsonMorris’ human resource specialists help employers with all aspects of HR strategy and workforce management. Working closely with our team of employment lawyers, we offer a holistic solution for employers on emerging areas of people risk and opportunity, such as changing working arrangments and adopting hybrid working. For advice on a specific issue, speak to our experts today
Hybrid working FAQs
What does hybrid working mean?
Hybrid working constitutes an arrangement in which an employee works part of their time remotely (usually at home), and part of their time in the workplace.
What is a hybrid working environment?
It is a type of work environment that combines aspects of in-office working with that of working remotely from home.
What is a hybrid working policy?
A hybrid working policy sets out the ground rules for employees who wish to operate under this type of working arrangement.
How to make hybrid working successful?
To successfully adopt hybrid working, careful consideration should be given to the sustainability of such arrangements. Businesses need to think about such things as bridging the gap between digital and physical environments, combating employee isolation, and rethinking employee experiences.
Last updated: 15 May 2021