COVID-19 led to many employees unexpectedly uprooting from their offices and setting up at home. Over a year has now passed and staff have largely adapted. Many appreciate the increased flexibility in working hours and work set up and note that it has enhanced their work life balance and the reduction in commuting has had a climate impact and brought cost savings. Employers have also seen that working flexibly is a viable option particularly given the potential savings from downscaling office space.
On the flip side, there are those who are less enthusiastic about this flexible way of working – some prefer a clear division between the office and home life; others do not feel as productive or are concerned about reduced supervision and lack of team and cultural cohesion.
For most businesses, the compromise appears to be a flexible combination of remote and office work – the hybrid-working model. Many well-known businesses are embracing this agile approach claiming that it gives the best of both worlds - flexibility of remote work but the collaboration and interaction of an office.
Whilst a hybrid-working model may have obvious benefits, implementing this can be a minefield for employers and may work better for some roles than others in the same business. A snapshot of some of the key practical/legal issues follows:
Contracts of employment
Does this reflect what is happening in practice? For instance, how many hours/days will the employees be working from home? Will it be variable week by week and who will decide? Will salary be adjusted? Who will meet the costs of homeworking?
Policies and training
Adequate policies and training covering homeworking, flexible working, IT, data protection, confidentiality and health and safety are essential and should be regularly reviewed/updated.
Flexible working requests
Those who have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service have a statutory right to make a flexible working request which may include changes to the hours they work, where they work from and when their work is undertaken. Employers must carefully consider each request and can only refuse if they have one or more of the eight business reasons provided by legislation.
How will the business manage the workforce if they are not all working in one location at the same time of day? Will disciplinary, grievance, performance and other meetings be held online or face-to-face? When will staff need to attend the office – if at all?
How will employers ensure it treats all staff equally and avoid inadvertently discriminating against those who are out of sight or required always to be in? What about employees whose roles are more difficult and less effective performed remotely?
Some struggle with feelings of isolation and their mental health can be negatively impacted by the lack of face-to-face interaction. How will employers deal with this?
As we start to emerge from a period of survival, and head towards thrive mode, this is the time for employers and leaders to carefully look at their working model and flexible working process and perhaps adopt a “one size fits one” approach. Whilst 9 to 5 office working has been the norm to date, we envisage this will cease to be the default option going forward.
For further advice please contact Jeanette Wheeler on 01603 756427 or [email protected]. Alternatively, please contact another member of Birketts' Employment Law Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2021.