‘People need to get off their Pelotons and get back to their desks’ was the message last week from Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowdon.
However, a lot of employees have been working from home for over 18 months and with the furlough scheme recently coming to an end, it’s fair to say that the world of work has changed significantly and not only for those who are office based.
Hybrid working is a term that has been bandied about for the last 12 months or so and is being touted as the ideal solution to the problem but what is it?
In this article we look at what hybrid working is, how hybrid working options can work for you and what employers should consider.
What is hybrid working?
In the current climate, hybrid working refers to a combined home/workplace based working pattern. It combines a partial return to the workplace with the greater flexibility that home working can bring.
Can employees refuse to return to the workplace?
Many businesses were faced with having to implement home working during the pandemic. Many businesses have adapted better than they thought but for many there is a real ‘love-hate’ relationship with home working, mainly due to the difficulties in remotely managing staff.
In terms of staff refusing to return to the workplace, as always, the issue rests on reasonableness but also what is contractual.
It (hopefully) goes without saying that health and safety regarding COVID-safe working environments, must continue to be adhered to but if you have staff refusing to return to their place of work purely due to their ‘preference’ for working from home, then this is not reasonable, especially if their contracts of employment state your business premises as their place of work.
If you have employees unreasonably refusing to return to their place of work, then contact us for advice. Any unreasonable refusal to work will likely be unauthorised absence which could affect their entitlement to be paid and could result in disciplinary action.
Be aware of the flexible working trap! Employees can request a permanent change to their working patterns and home working requests are an example of a flexible working request. You aren’t obliged to agree to flexible working requests, but you do have a legal duty to consider them. For more information, please see our previous flexible working guide https://www.avensure.com/articles/an-employers-guide-to-flexible-working/
What are the benefits of hybrid working?
Hybrid working is often talked about purely from the perspective of how it can benefit staff, but it also has a lot of benefits for the employer as well.
- It may help you to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission by keeping staff numbers at a lower level. This may also reduce the anxieties staff may have about returning to the workplace- it could also reduce the employer’s anxieties about a mass COVID outbreak at work.
- It eases staff back to work. Even if staff have been home working, the first step back to their place of work may be quite daunting- hybrid working allows time for them to reacclimatise.
- It reduces costs for you and your staff. Your overheads will be lower with fewer people on site, you may even have been able to reduce the size of your work premises, resulting in lower rents and so on.
Your staff may have taken a pay cut on furlough, but they will have felt the benefit of not having to fork out for expensive travel costs whilst working at home. Hybrid working lessens that financial burden.
- Work life balance is good for productivity. Many employers struggled with managing staff remotely and felt that some were not exactly on their game with the extra distractions home working can bring.
However, work life balance is very important and whilst some staff have hated working from home some will have felt that the less amount of time spent on travelling to and from work has made a huge difference to them. To wrench this away from staff at a moment’s notice, will hit them hard.
Unhappy, resentful staff are not productive, invested staff. Hybrid working will help you to better manage staff where remotely managing them has proven hard, but it also keeps that sense of work life balance as well.
- Attendance levels may be improved by hybrid working. Having that flexibility means that staff are better able to cope with the unexpected.
The pandemic has not gone away, schools are seeing rising rates in transmissions for example, so if staff are able to work from home, where previously the kids being sent home from school may have meant they would be absent from work, they may be able to continue to work from home.
Many businesses have seen their absence rates fall with the implementation of home working. This may be because catching a seasonal cold, getting on the train and sitting in a stuffy office was not an appealing prospect and colleagues are never happy about sitting next to someone sniffling and sneezing their way through the working day. Staff who are able to work from home may be able to continue to work, where previously they may have rung in sick.
We’re not suggesting that hybrid working means that staff are expected to work when they are not well enough to do so of course!
How would I fairly implement hybrid working?
The best way to assess this is to speak to your staff to get their views on 1. Whether they want it or not and 2. How they would like to see such a scheme implemented. You aren’t necessarily bound by what your staff want but it may help you to avoid any immediate pitfalls and it keeps the lines of communication open.
If you are implementing hybrid working, make sure that it doesn’t exclude certain groups as this is a ticket to a discrimination claim. For example, don’t exclude those who work part-time, have high absence levels or only offer it to those who have young children.
Of course, there may be some roles where hybrid working is not an option, that’s fine, hybrid working has to work for the company as well as the staff.
Can hybrid working be done on a rotational basis?
Yes, that’s fine. You could ask for volunteers as you may find that some staff don’t want to do it at all.
Just make sure you are clear on how it will work. Its also important to set out how any changes to the rota will be agreed and by whom. Otherwise, you will quickly descend into an unofficial flexi-system where people decide they are working from home at the last minute or are swapping the rota amongst themselves.
Can we implement hybrid working on a trial or temporary basis?
Yes. This is a good idea. The aim of the trial period is that it gives you the opportunity to assess if a hybrid working system works for your business.
Again, as always, communication is key here. If you agree to trial hybrid working, be clear on how long you are going to trial it for and what you need to see happen for it to be implemented on a permanent basis.
If its temporary, why is it temporary? If it is to reacclimatise staff to the workplace or to manage the numbers in the workplace, then make this clear. Be aware that the longer the system is in place, the harder it may be for the employer to argue that it doesn’t work. It may also become contractual over time.
And finally…. the key thing to remember is that whilst there is that element of flexibility, hybrid working is a system which requires authorisation and structure. Ultimately it is the employer who decides if this kind of system will work or not but if you can, why not give it a go?