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Hybrid Working - What Should You Consider?

on Thursday, 16 September 2021.

A recent study by Acas shows that over half of UK employers expect an increased demand for flexible working from employees in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

These will include requests for hybrid working, which is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace and working remotely. Find out more about Acas' recent study.

Although it is not a new concept, after many employees have been forced to work from home during the pandemic, both employees and employers are reviewing what was beneficial about working from home arrangements, and what aspects they felt were detrimental to their lives and businesses.

We consider what employers should consider before adopting a hybrid working model on a more permanent basis.

Why Hybrid Working?

Hybrid working can bring many benefits to both employers and employees, although every business and individual is different. For example, it can help to attract and retain a more diverse workforce, improve trust and working relationships, and increase productivity, job satisfaction and general wellbeing for some employees.

The Office for National Statistics has published findings on two surveys carried out between April - May 2021, the Business Insights and Conditions Survey, and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. The results of the surveys highlighted that, when asked about homeworking, working adults stated work-life balance was the greatest positive, however challenges of collaboration were the greatest negative.

More generally, the following examples are other potential negatives that  have been identified as issues with working from home:

  • a lack of engagement from staff whilst they work remotely
  • communication issues which can lead to a lack of collaboration and effective idea sharing
  • increased costs due to the need to provide additional IT equipment and office furniture to provide a safe working environment
  • data protection and cyber security concerns

It may also pose specific difficulties when introducing new employees to organisations, assessing and managing performance and providing training and support for less experienced employees.

It is undeniable that more people (in relevant industries) are going to be considering hybrid working as a result of the experiences over the last year and a half, and it is therefore important that employers think carefully about how they will implement this, balancing the positives with the potential risks as identified above in a fair and consistent manner.  

Flexible Working Requests

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working, which can include a request to work from home. If the employee has worked for an employer for at least 26 weeks, this will be treated as a statutory request and must be dealt with following the relevant statutory processes and principles.

Any flexible working request must be dealt with within a 3 month timeframe and  in a 'reasonable manner,' which is likely to include:

  • assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
  • holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
  • offering an appeal process

A flexible working request that meets the statutory definition can only be refused for specified reasons. These are:

  • extra costs that will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce

Further information on flexible working requests is available from the Government website.

Acas Guidance

Acas has recently provided useful hybrid working guidance to help employers to consider and manage the risks. It advises employers to:

  • consult widely with staff or their representatives about introducing hybrid working and discuss practical considerations such as regular communication, technology, performance management and health and safety
  • create a hybrid working policy to establish which roles are eligible, how someone can request it and any principles such as allowing remote working for a maximum number of days a week
  • ensure staff who are working remotely are not excluded and have access to the same opportunities as those in the workplace such as team-building activities, training and development
  • make sure decisions around whether to approve a request for hybrid working are fair and transparent and that other forms of flexible working that could work as possible alternatives can be discussed with employees
  • think about training line managers and staff to help them prepare for and manage hybrid working
  • consider a trial period to see if it works and if any further adjustments to arrangements are needed.

The Needs of Employees

It is important that employers also consider the needs of employees when hybrid working. This will involve considering whether any reasonable adjustments are needed, what their home working environment is and implementing measures to support employee's health, safety and wellbeing whilst they work remotely.

This has been highlighted in the recent The Right to Disconnect report from the Autonomy Thinktank which highlights the 'epidemic of hidden overtime' the coronavirus pandemic has caused due to the increasing expectation that employees are 'always on call' whilst working remotely. The report calls for new 'right to disconnect' laws in the UK in response to this, which would allow workers to maintain healthy boundaries between work and leisure and to be disconnected from work-based technologies during leisure hours.

Whether or not 'the right to disconnect' does in fact becomes a new legal requirement in the UK, employers should still consider the physical and emotional strain workers have been under since the beginning of the pandemic and whether hybrid working would help to alleviate or could potentially aggravate this strain.

If employers are looking to introduce hybrid working then they should also consider offering additional support for workers such as organised communication channels, workplace counselling, introducing mental health 'champions' in the workplace and implementing a stress and mental wellbeing at work policy to create a working environment which supports mental wellbeing.

Next Steps for Employers

Employers undoubtedly have a lot to think about when it comes to hybrid working. In particular it is recommended that the following steps are taken as a minimum.

  • Ensure that they have a Hybrid Working Policy which sets out the employer's expectations of employees who are frequently working from home.
  • Consider if your communication technology is of a standard to enable colleagues to remain connected.
  • Ensure that workstation and general health and safety assessments are carried out for staff in their homeworking environment as well as their working environment.
  • Consult with employees and ask them what their preferences are before considering whether these fit with the needs of the business.
  • If you receive a statutory flexible working request, ensure that the correct steps are followed in dealing with it, including meeting the deadlines to respond and offering an appeal process.
  • Be aware that a 'one approach fits all' system could cause difficulties for employers in the long term. For example, do you have staff with disabilities or childcare needs who are requesting to work from home due to their individual needs?
  • If you decide to have different approaches for different people, take advice as to whether this could potentially be seen to be discriminatory.

For legal support with hybrid working, please contact Kathy Halliday in our Employment Law team on 07966 162359, or please complete the form below.

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