Every employee in Great Britain will be given the right to request flexible working – regardless of time served – under government plans to modernise the way we work.
By law, you have the right to make a flexible working request if:
- you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks.
- you’re legally classed as an employee.
- you’ve not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months.
The new proposals will enable approximately 2.2 million employees to have the right to request flexible working, without first being required to meet the 26 weeks criteria. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many jobs were office based, with little flexibility. However, the pandemic has accelerated the development of flexible working patterns in the UK. The government announced last week that every employee in Great Britain will be given the right to request flexible working, regardless of the time served, under plans to modernise the ways we work.
While a mix of remote and office-based working can have major benefits for businesses and staff, it is imperative to ensure that the right legal frameworks and protections are in place. In this article, we look at some of the legal and practical implications for employers to consider when engaging hybrid workers.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working is where staff split their time between their employer’s workplace and another venue, usually the employee’s home. Many employers and employees have realised the benefits of homeworking over the last 18 months. Employees have preferred working from home as it has given a better work-life balance, reduced commute times, and allowed for caring responsibilities. However, challenges for employers have arisen too – including how to maintain company and team culture, work collaboratively, manage and train staff, ensure inclusivity and protecting health, safety and mental health. Along with a host of practical issues including data protection, equipment for staff and insurance.
If you are considering a more permeant shift to hybrid working, you need to have a clear policy to help manage expectations about what is and is not possible in the post pandemic world of work. A policy will also mitigate the risk of complaints and potential claims in the future. You will need to consider:
- Eligibility– You need to decide if this policy will be applicable to all staff. If it is only suited to certain roles, you need to set out clearly which roles are suitable and reasons for this.
- Expectations for hybrid working– You need to specify what the business’ expectations are in terms of the split between office and other locations.
- Will you only allow employees to work from their home address, or are other venues permitted?
- How will you ensure other locations are secure in terms of confidentiality and data protection?
- Do you require staff to spend a minimum number of days in the office?
- Do you require staff to come to the office for specific meetings or for training purposes?
- How much notice will you give to employees to attend these appointments?
- How will you review performance with remote working?
- Will you need to reintroduce permanent office working if you have concerns about the performance of some staff working remotely.
- Office working– What expectations does the business have when employees are working from the office? For example, do employees need to work during set hours or can hours be flexible? Do you need to implement a desk booking system? It is also important to clarify what happens regarding expenses for travel to the office. Normally, travel to and from a place of work will not give rise to expenses nor be counted towards working time.
- Working elsewhere – This needs to set out your expectations for employees when working remotely. You will need to think about:
- Technology and equipment for staff
- How sickness absence should be reported when working from home
- Health and safety procedures, including risk assessments
- The business’ data protection and computer security policy for remote working
- Hours worked – are you expecting staff to work set hours or are you happy with a more flexible approach?
As well as having a clear policy in place, employers should also think about whether any changes to employee’s contracts of employment are required, and if so, seek agreement to make these changes.
Implementing the policy
It would be advisable to consider the following steps, before implementing any changes:
- Consultation– Speak to employees and ask for feedback, perhaps in the form of an anonymous staff survey. This is a way of highlighting any concerns or considerations that may need to be addressed prior to formalising the new policy. Staff are more likely to buy into the policy if they feel included in the process.
- Support managers – Hybrid working has brought new challenges for managing staff. Managers are likely to need training and support on developing skills to ensure good communication, performance management, team building and collaboration. Along with guidance on ensuring inclusion and diversity, effective induction and staff engagement.
- Communication – Performance at work is not so easy to observe when staff are working remotely or flexibly. Managers will need to ensure regular communication with staff both in and out of the office.
Employers have had an opportunity throughout the pandemic to look at their business model and determine how it works best and most efficiently. The lifting of restrictions is certainly an opportunity to make changes and exploit the benefits of both working from home and remote working. However, setting out expectations in advance through a carefully drafted policy will help to ensure that the changes are implemented smoothly and to the benefit of both the employer and employee. If you would like advice on homeworking or hybrid working, please call our experienced Employment Team on 01603 677077.