Hybrid Model: How to make it work for your business and employees

Grace Alabi one of the employment team from Machins Solicitors brings us their top tips on making Hybrid working – work for you…

Covid has impacted working life in the UK more than any other event in recent memory.  The application of restrictions regarding how employees perform their duties have fluctuated over the last 20 months.  In order to accommodate the changing nature of the workplace restrictions and also to try and protect employees from exposure to Covid, many employers have embarked on hybrid working arrangements.  This involves employees going to the office some days, and working from home on others with the goal of reducing the time spent by employees travelling to and from work and also to limit the number of employees attending workplaces at the same time.

The significant increase in hybrid working has, in some cases, created employee expectations that they may control when and where they perform their duties.  In an employee’s market with job vacancies at their zenith and unemployment at a nadir, employees feel empowered to make demands about working arrangements on the basis that if their employer won’t accommodate them then another one likely will.  For employers, it is therefore vital to strike the right balance in order to ensure that hybrid working arrangements keep the workforce happy whilst also facilitating business and avoiding the risk of abuse.

In order to make the hybrid model work, businesses will need to ensure effective communication and people management: this is critical to success. This article explores how to successfully implement hybrid working and what employers should take into consideration.

  1. Create clear policies and procedures: Create policies and procedures that enable your staff to easily make the transition to hybrid working. Communicate to your employees what type of hybrid working model you will be implementing and how you want it to work. Show employees how they can request hybrid working and make it clear who is eligible. Ensure that all staff know their roles and responsibilities in relation to the new hybrid model and review how hybrid working will operate in line with your other company policies and make an updates as necessary.
  2. Sustain an inclusive working culture: A Hybrid model can cause rifts in the team dynamic, creating issues for company culture. If, as an employer, you decide to give your team the option of how and where to work, you must ensure that inclusivity is encouraged, and that means ensuring handling all tasks with a remote-first attitude. Leaders and line managers must make sure their team know they are personally accessible and regularly check in. Another way to sustain an inclusive working culture is to unite teams by creating opportunities for cross department collaborations, open times for employees to meet virtually and ensure the business works together as one and not many individual units. Hold ‘virtual’ happy hours and company mixers for employees in the office and the ones at home.
  3. Mentoring, Coaching and Development: One area to pay particular attention to is developing skills.  As an employer you should put in place learning and development to help ensure the productivity of your workforce. Develop your employee’s skills to ensure effective communication, performance management, team and relationship building and collaboration in hybrid teams. Mentoring is also critical to employee retention and satisfaction, and as businesses embrace the hybrid workplace, mentorship programs must follow suit. The relationships between mentor and mentee will need to balance in-person and digital communication to ensure mentees get the right attention at the right time in their career progression.
  4. Mental Health: It is important to raise awareness of the impact of mental health issues as not all employees will benefit from working at home. Use anonymous pulse surveys on mental health and wellbeing to see how your staff are feeling, to identify trends and put in place measures to address them. Invest in third party support, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, which allows employees to access assistance about mental health and other matters in confidence. Build an online community to provide support to try and replicate the community in the office. Line Managers should regularly check in with their team members and encourage staff to pick up the phone and speak to somebody for that personal connection rather than email them. It is also vital to promote a healthy work life balance, for example, taking holidays, and not emailing late at night.
  5. Technology: Employees need to be able to work seamlessly between workplace and home, and there needs to be ease of connectivity between people in the office and those working remotely. If hybrid working is to be a success, it is important that employees have the equipment they need to perform their role. Therefore, employers may wish to review systems and equipment available in offices in order to assess whether it will appropriately support hybrid forms of working, and support employees in fully using available technology.
  6. Legal Implications: You will need to review your employment contracts and make appropriate changes to reflect the new working arrangements. Where employees make a formal request for hybrid working through a flexible working policy and the request is accepted, this will amount to a formal change to terms and conditions of employment, and the employment contract should state a contractual location. Employers should also make sure that data protection obligations are maintained and employees using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Finally, employers have duties relating to the health and safety of employees which apply even if they are working from their own home, therefore, employers should also remind staff that they should ensure a suitable and safe environment where they can focus on work, and that they should continue to comply with your sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work.

If, as an employer, you do not wish to embrace hybrid working and so intend to bring, or have already brought, everyone back to full time office working then you will need to carefully consider what was communicated to the employees at the time they originally started working away from the office.  Provided no communication was made (whether oral or in writing) that indicated a change to the employment contract then you are likely to be able to enforce the return to office based working.  However, inflexibility is likely to result in grievances and formal flexible working requests that may be difficult to manage and so it may be prudent to adopt hybrid working so that it can be managed appropriately.

If you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law, please contact our employment team.

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