What are the benefits of Hybrid Working? - What you need to know.
The start of 2020 seems like another world as we emerge into the new post-COVID landscape. The 9 to 5, Monday to Friday in the office has been consigned to the history books and although there are some companies who are keen to go back to it, the smart money is on employee retention through the adoption of what’s known as hybrid working.
This is when employees have a great deal of choice in where they work from, whether that be the office or remotely, and this may vary depending on the needs of the job in general and of tasks in particular. Some may call this hybrid – a mix of office and remote working – or agile – the ability to pick and choose locations and pivot between them.
The benefits of a hybrid system
For employers who are wondering whether to adopt a hybrid or agile system, there are several benefits to consider:
· If the whole workforce isn’t on site at the same time, the employer can reduce the size of the premises they operate. Of course, some employers may be tied into extended leases, so this wouldn’t necessarily work for them. Nevertheless, fewer employees on site at any one time would mean less expenditure on heating, lighting and other utility use.
· As what’s been called the Great Resignation takes effect across the economy, employers may find that not giving employees the chance to work flexibly means they leave to find an employer who will. Conversely, offering a greater choice in hybrid/agile working may increase attractiveness to top talent.
· Additionally, many employees, who previously had no choice but to work on site may have found that they are in fact more effective working remotely and increases in productivity could be put at risk if those employees are being told to return to office-based work.
It all depends on the type of employer, the work they do and the employees who work for them, but it’s safe to say that adopting a flexible approach and looking forward rather than back will reap dividends.
Hybrid or flexible?
There has been some confusion over the terminology adopted to describe the new working models. Hybrid and agile are often used to mean the same thing, although hybrid is often thought of as a stepping stone on the way to fully agile. However, one thing that hybrid is not is flexible working. That’s when an individual employee requests a work pattern that suits their particular needs at a certain time. Hybrid working is an employer-wide system that applies to all employees.
Things to consider about hybrid working
For many companies, remote working was something over which they had no control during the pandemic. Now, with the relaxation of government restrictions, those companies have a greater degree of choice over what system they adopt. For those considering a hybrid system, there are several factors to take into account.
· Think about the type of technology you’ll need. Will employees need laptops? Have they got a sufficient internet connection? What happens if that goes down? Can they come into the office to work?
· While working remotely, how will employees communicate with each other? Can they use mobile phones, and if so, will they need a work-provided one? Or can they use video calls, for example Teams or Zoom?
· If they are working remotely, will they need their remote working environment (desk, chair, monitor, laptop) checked for health and safety issues?
· The degree to which an employee can work remotely will depend on the nature of the work they do – their role may involve tasks that have to be done in the workplace and can’t be redesigned.
· Depending on the team dynamic, some employees will need to meet in person more than others; similarly, some employees who have a client-facing role may need to meet those clients and other stakeholders in person.
· Even if an employee is working remotely, they are still covered by working time regulations, so the employer will need to make sure their teams don’t work more than they should do. Many employees reported during the pandemic lockdowns that the dividing lines between work and home time were becoming blurred and this can cause problems for mental health if employees don’t feel that they have some time to cool down and concentrate on things that aren’t work-related.
Implementing hybrid working
Once an employer has made the decision to move to a hybrid working model, what steps do they need to take?
The first thing is to change the contract of employment. Most contracts will pre-date the pandemic and will no longer be fit for purpose in a move to hybrid working. If the employer has done their job right and sold the move to hybrid working, most, if not all, employees will be on board. However, it’s possible that there will be some who won’t agree to change their contract of employment. If the matter has been discussed with them, their objections aired and they still don’t want to change their contract, then the only option remaining is to terminate their current contract and offer to immediately re-engage them on the new contract. The employee then has a choice – either accept the re-engagement and keep their continuous service (the transition would effectively be seamless) or refuse to accept the re-engagement and effectively be dismissed. If the latter option is chosen, then employers should be aware that the employee could make a claim for unfair dismissal if they have two or more years’ continuous service.
It's important at the discussion stage that the possibility of dismissal is brought up and the employee made aware that this is one of the possible outcomes of the process.
Before embarking on the road to fully agile/hybrid working, it’s important to bear in mind that remote working is not for everyone. Many people thrive but a significant number will face problems if they are left with no option but to work remotely. Some may have experienced mental health problems from working for two years in isolation and need to be around people. Others may not have a dedicated workspace at home. Similarly, some employees may find that they have grown used to the remote working environment and may find it hard to concentrate in the office with its noise and distractions, which are often hard to screen out. It is a simple matter to consult with employees when considering what model of work to adopt; hybrid shouldn’t be a compromise that ends up suiting nobody.
One thing that needs to be considered when bringing in a policy that affects everyone is discrimination. Naturally, all employees need to be treated fairly, and can’t suffer disadvantage because of the hybrid working system. If, because of their protected characteristics, they need additional training, support and opportunities as other employees, then they should get this. In the case of disabled employees, the employer will need to implement what are known as reasonable adjustments, which eliminate the disadvantage they face compared to non-disabled employees.
When all employees were based in the office, it was a simple matter to keep data secure; IT teams could ensure computers didn’t use unauthorised software, visitors could be escorted to where they were going, rather than have inadvertent access to confidential information and any sensitive documents could be destroyed securely. This is not the case with remote working and employers could be forgiven for being nervous about data security as they move to a hybrid model.
Firms will need to look at adopting cyber security best practice, either in-house or through a third-party trusted provider. They will also need to ensure that any remote working space is secure and sensitive information cannot be accessed by those who are not supposed to see it. If a shredder needs to be provided to ensure destruction of confidential paperwork, that possibility should be investigated. Very importantly, employees should be reminded that they must not use their own equipment for work, nor should they install unauthorised software on work equipment.
This could mean that the business and its IT specialists have no control over who (or what) is accessing their IT infrastructure or the data they hold, which could lead to their system being hacked, data being lost and clients' or customers' money being stolen.