The phrases "working from home" and "you're on mute" have become common in businesses across the UK since the start of the pandemic.
However, since the easing of the restrictions and many employees returning to working in the office some new phrases relating to the ways in which we can work remotely or more flexibility to address the work-life balance for employees have started to do the rounds.
Hybrid working has now become a common approach, particularly in office-based environments. But what is hybrid working, and how should employers go about implementing it?
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working is where an employee splits their working time between their work premises and another location, usually their home. Hybrid working is a form of flexible working designed to assist employees achieve the ever important work-life balance, whilst still meeting the needs of the business. Hybrid working is not a legal entitlement, and this is therefore offered completely at the discretion of employers.
Do you need a hybrid working policy?
By law, no. However, if you are implementing hybrid working practices, then it is wise to have a clear hybrid working policy to outline the parameters of the businesses’ approach to hybrid working. For example, the policy can define which roles are eligible for hybrid working, the arrangements for where home working can occur, and when homeworking is allowed.
Having a hybrid policy in place from the outset will help mitigate any issues or complaints moving forward.
What should you include in a hybrid working policy?
The policy should be clear on the division of the employee’s time, i.e. the amount of time that can be spent working remotely or in the workplace. If this level of detail is not included in the policy and employees begin to work remotely and so do for a period of time, employers risk employees arguing they have an implied contractual right that their role is now entirely remote. The split allowed is entirely at an employer’s discretion. For example, you may be looking for a 60%-40% split for, where employees can work from home 60% of the time but must attend their workplace for the other 40% of their working week. This would equate to 2 days at the workplace and 3 days working from home for full-time employees (which would be pro-rated accordingly for part-time employees).
It is essential to be clear on instances where employees must attend their workplace, such as for team meetings, all employee conferences or face to face training.
You may also want to define where remote working is allowed. For example, are you going to enable people to work anywhere in the UK, or do you want to specify that they need to be at home? Do they need to inform or request consent if they're going to work from anywhere apart from their home address? If employees are permitted to work remotely abroad, there will be further matters which will require consideration for such an arrangement. It is essential to note that there may be immigration, tax and data protection issues to be aware of, and it is recommended that you seek legal advice in respect of such matters before allowing employees to work overseas.
You should also confirm whether employees will be provided with equipment to enable them to complete their roles from home, or if they will be required to use their own equipment.
Finally, it is important to highlight within the policy instances where the policy may be revoked for individual employees, for example, if there are concerns over their conduct, performance or health and wellbeing.
Your policy must set out the eligibility criteria for your hybrid working approach, if applicable. This will allow you to mitigate any future disputes. As an employer, you need to decide if the policy is a business-wide policy or only applies to specific roles in the business. If certain roles are not deemed appropriate for hybrid working, the policy should outline the rationale as to why this is the case to provide clarity to employees. It could be, for example, that there are face to face elements to the role, there are regulatory reasons which prevent the employee from working remotely or the role requires equipment that is only available in the workplace.
You may want to have set criteria for workplace working regarding the hours that employees have to attend your workplace premises. Are you going to allow employees to have flexible hours, do they need to be present for core hours, or should they be there for the entire working day? Additionally, will employees have set days where they are attending the workplace, or will this be flexible?
You may also need to include the details for employees needing to hot desk or book meeting rooms, particularly as businesses continue to work to COVID safe protocols.
Your hybrid policy should clearly define the expectations of employees when they are working remotely in the locations you have specified. Your policy should, as a minimum, include:
- The equipment and technology needed to perform the role effectively and (as set out above) whether the technology will be provided or if the employee needs to supply this themselves;
- How any sickness absence or other absences from work will be reported while the employee is working from home;
- The health and safety policies that need to be adhered to whilst employees are working remotely and how risk assessments will be carried out.;
- The data protection approach while employees are working from home. This should include any physical documents moved from the workplace to a remote location and how these must be stored in order to maintain compliance with GDPR; and
- The availability of employees when working remotely. The policy should set out if employees should be available for set hours or if there is a flexible approach.
A hybrid working policy is designed to sit alongside other flexible working approaches, which should be clearly defined in their own policies. The hybrid working policy should refer to these as another option for employees.
As well as having a clearly defined hybrid working policy, it is essential to consider whether there needs to be any amendments to employees' contracts of employment if changes are to be permanent. These can include changes to the place of work clauses and attendance. If so, it is important to work with employees to get an agreement on the changes; a business cannot unilaterally change the employee’s contract and doing so could result in the business opening itself up to claims from employees.
Implementing a hybrid working approach
There is no set procedure for implementation of hybrid working, unless this is being done as a formal change to an employee’s terms and conditions of employment. However, we would advise the following steps:
- If you gain feedback and buy-in from employees through a consultation process, you are less likely to encounter issues and disputes in the future;
- A hybrid approach will undoubtedly impact team management, so it is important to offer line managers support and training on how to implement the policy, communicate effectively with a remote team, manage performance, and support the team with a new way of working; and
- Any new ways of working must be effectively communicated to all employees across multiple touchpoints, so everyone is clear on the approach and how their role fits in.
In many ways, hybrid working offers employers an excellent opportunity to help their employees with the much-desired work-life balance. However, as with all elements of employment law, a clear policy that sets out the expectations from both sides often mitigates any future issues.
We have developed a pack of hybrid working policy templates to help address this in your business, including a hybrid working policy, a checklist, a company memo, and a hybrid working application form which we will tailor to your individual business. It is available here for £450 + VAT - or free of charge to our employment law retainer (YEAR) clients.