Since the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly all businesses have had to adapt to working from home, but the key question remains, namely what is that working model going to look like?
Some businesses have been talking about a ‘hybrid working’ model with a mix of home and office working but one of the many uncertainties is that whilst the hybrid model is proving very popular now, is this really going to be the new way of working long term?
According to the Office for National Statistics, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only around 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home. This increased significantly in 2020 as a result of the Government’s mandates for people to remain at home. Recent study results from YouGov have shown that the majority of UK workers would like to continue to work from home at least some of the time after the pandemic is over. The BBC have also released poll results showing that 43 of the biggest UK employers do not plan to bring their staff back to the office full-time.
If you are looking to implement a hybrid working model, the following are a few factors to think about.
- Employment Contracts
Any change to the workplace of employees should be reflected in employment contracts. Employment contracts may already have built-in flexibility for an employee’s place of work, such as a mobility clause. If there isn’t a mobility clause, any change will need to be communicated to affected staff to make them aware of what is happening and that it will represent a permanent change to their contract of employment. Please remember that any amendments to an employee’s location of work should be reasonable and justified to avoid breaching the implied term of trust and confidence. Any change will need to be agreed in writing.
- Contractual Terms
There may also be additional contractual terms that may need to be updated when implementing a hybrid working model. These can include whether employees are required to attend the workplace on particular days during the week, whether employees will have flexible working start and finish times and who is responsible for the fees associated with working from home such as electricity, broadband and calls.
- Homeworking Policy
A homeworking policy (or reflecting current policies to include those working from home), would seem to be really important here. These changes should aim to cover how employees working from home will be supervised, best practice for communication with colleagues, and how performance will be monitored.
Rather unsurprisingly, since the start of the pandemic there have been a significant increase in the number of cyber security attacks and breaches, with criminals exploiting the fact that an organisation’s systems and information are more vulnerable when employees are working outside of the office. For example, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport reported in March 20201 that two in five businesses had experienced cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months, whilst a report by ESET found that there had been a 768% increase in remote desktop attacks in 2020. As we now move towards a hybrid working model, the risks around this need to be wrapped into any revised policy to cover questions for example:
- Under a hybrid model, staff are more likely to be taking confidential information between the office and home – what is your organisation’s position on this?
- Can confidential information only be removed from the office if it is on an encrypted device?
Mandatory data security training to deal with what confidential information is, the employee’s obligations to keep it secure, and the consequences of non-compliance would be sensible to have, reminding employees about home security, confidential information, keeping passwords safe and shredding documents securely.
- IT and equipment
There needs to be an outline of which equipment is being provided for staff working from home in any hybrid working policy. It is also important to consider who will provide IT services and how they will provide this remotely.
- Employee wellbeing
It is very important to continue to support employee’s well-being whilst they work from home. Businesses are looking at procedures such as catch-up calls to allow for early recognition of stress and isolation. The key point here is that employers are still responsible for an employee’s health and safety when working from home, including risk assessments of all work activities carried out by employees working from home. If a business can show that it has actively managed a risk, communicated the risk mitigation measures to staff, monitored the effectiveness of the preventative measures, and adapted procedures to suit new challenges, it is likely they will be able to prove that they have taken “reasonable steps” to prevent the foreseeable risk of harm to employees. Employers should continue to deal with flexible working requests within the statutory timeframes and in a reasonable manner.
The key takeaway here is to remember that hybrid working cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. While setting up policies, practices and new ways of working covers the process part, to implement hybrid working will require consideration of what culture shift may be required as well. Some businesses have been talking about having all staff to move to hybrid working, we think that more may be happy to have it as an option for those who want it. If you require assistance with the creation of a hybrid working policy or updating your current policies, or wish to discuss anything in this article, please get in touch…