Businesses across the UK are preparing to transition into post-COVID working practices as the country finally emerges from lockdown on 19 July 2021.
With a clear majority of workers wanting to continue working from home for at least some of the time, most organisations have introduced some form of permanent ‘hybrid’ working model, allowing their employees to work partly from home and partly from the workplace.
During the lockdown period, businesses have recognised that there has been little impact on productivity as a result of employees working from home and have benefited from higher levels of employee job satisfaction, reduced absence rates and cost savings on office space. Employees have benefitted from a better work-life balance, higher levels of motivation and saved commuting time and costs.
However, not everyone is in favour of remote working. Some employees are keen to get back to the workplace to spend time with colleagues and collaborate face-to-face and employers find it more challenging to supervise and manage teams working remotely.
A mixture of remote working and traditional office working seems a sensible solution and many employers are turning to the Hybrid model as a way to achieve a flexible approach that works for the business and their employees.
Employers should be aware of the various legal implications of introducing a hybrid model, such as the impact on employees’ terms and conditions of employment and company policies, the risk of discrimination and breach of contract claims, and challenges around data protection and confidentiality.
Whether businesses are looking to take an organisational approach to hybrid working or planning to introduce it on a case-by-case basis, it is essential that any changes are properly documented from a contractual point of view, by issuing employees with updated contracts of employment or letters of variation. Informal agreements may be reached with employees, however, even without a written agreement, employees may be able to argue that their contracts have been varied by custom or practice or by implication.
Changes to consider documenting include place of work, hours of work, confidentiality clauses and home-working risk assessments.
Policies and Procedures
Employers should consider introducing a hybrid policy setting out expectations and guidelines on hybrid working, such as who is eligible, arrangements for workplace attendance and guidance on remote working. Other policies may also need updating alongside this, such as those relating to home working, absence reporting, performance management, data protection, confidentiality, IT, and health, safety and wellbeing.
If properly implemented and supported, hybrid working will undoubtedly lead to significant benefits for organisations and employees alike. To avoid the risk of challenges and claims, any new hybrid working policy should be communicated effectively across the workforce and properly documented in company policies and employees’ contracts of employment.
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