The official government message encouraging people to work from home is expected to end with the final step out of lockdown. For many employees though, homeworking is here to stay. According to a recent BBC survey, 43 of 50 big UK employers will not bring staff back to the office full time. Instead, employees will look to “hybrid working”, mixing homeworking and with coming into the office.

James Edmonds, an Associate in the Employment Law Team with WBW Solicitors, explains how to build on the lessons learned during the pandemic, as well as practical and contractual issues to consider and pitfalls to avoid.

Feedback and reflection

If you are considering hybrid working, you should ask employees about their experience of homeworking. This can be done through an anonymous survey, team meetings or employee representatives. Important questions may include: which work activities went well remotely and which did not; and do they have any concerns about coming back to the workplace?

Managing staff remotely was also a new skill for many managers, so managers should also reflect on the challenges of managing remotely and how they adapted.

Good practice and concerns can then be shared and considered.

Hybrid working – practical issues

When implementing hybrid working, you will need to consider practical issues, such as:

  • Is the employee or their role suitable for hybrid working?
  • Will employees have to come in for a minimum number of days and will they have the right to choose the days they come in?
  • Will desk space or hot desking limit the number of employees who can come into the workplace at any one time?
  • Will you allow employees to be flexible with their working hours too?
  • Will employees need to come into the office on the same days for team meetings and collaborative work?
  • Are new working practices or technology required to enable hybrid working, including maintaining contact with managers?
  • How will you monitor an employee’s welfare, health and safety when working from home and undertake home-working risk assessments? Proper workplace assessments should be carried out and guidance and the HSE has published guidance on how to protect homeworkers.
  • How will you avoid creating in-group and out-group dynamics? Hybrid working can create an in-group of regular office-based workers and an out-group of those working wholly or mostly remotely. This can create problems, such as remote workers being left out of decision making or their work may be overlooked (which could lead to discrimination and other complaints). It can also create conflict, damage morale and reduce collaboration. Requiring all staff to be in the office on the same day or days each week can help mitigate these issues.
  • How will you monitor and assess work performance? Assessment of performance is often based on observation. The way you monitor and assess work performance may therefore need to change to avoid home-workers being disadvantaged. This may require more frequent one-to-one meetings with hybrid workers. More focus on objectives, outcomes, and feedback will also be important.

We also recommend having a written policy on hybrid working. Other policies may also need to be updated, such as those relating to homeworking, data protection, confidentiality, IT, use of company equipment and anti-harassment to address online bullying.

Changing contract terms

New hybrid working arrangements will need to be agreed and documented in an updated contract of employment or variation agreement. Clearly stating the new arrangements will also help to avoid disputes. The law also requires employers to update certain changes, including to the place of work, within one month.

What if an employee does not wish to adopt hybrid working?

Changing to hybrid working is a significant change to an employee’s employment terms. It will therefore require an employee’s agreement and imposing this change could result in breach of contract, constructive dismissal and other claims. We would therefore recommend you seek specific legal advice from us on how to bring about changes safely.

We can help you formalise hybrid working and advise you on how to safely bring about changes to contracts to implement this new model of working. Please contact James Edmonds in the employment team on 01626 202329 or email jamesedmonds@wbw.co.uk.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.