2020 was a tough year for business, particularly for certain industries that were forced to close, then open, then close again. However, for many office-based businesses, the decision was made for them: their workforce would work from home.
For some who were already operating a remote model, like we are here at Lawbox Design, that meant business as usual. For other businesses, there was a scramble to get tech up to speed and a new way of working had to be adopted.
On the 12th July Boris announced:
“We’re removing the Government instruction to work from home, where you can. But we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desks from Monday. And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer.”
Cue hearts sinking everywhere as we all thought of what we might be missing out on if a return to the office became mandatory. Perhaps you were thinking that your dog has got used to you being around, do you have to leave them now? Or – I have been enjoying doing the school run, do I have to give that up now? What should I do with my Peloton subscription?
You might be thinking that a ‘best of both worlds’ approach could mean that you don’t miss out on those things you love about working from home but could also keep your employer/employees happy with a blend of remote and office work – hybrid working. But how does hybrid working, work?
Understanding hybrid working in practice
We have tried to answer some of the questions we have been hearing the most from our clients since Boris’ announcement. You might have more, if you do, let’s keep the conversation going and get in touch.
What do I need to think about when we return to the office?
Whilst employers can now welcome their employees back to the office, it is still not going to be a free for all. If you have companies with offices across the UK you are also likely faced with confusion over slightly different rules in each country.
Make sure you refer to the UK government guidance on this. The guidance sets out the priority steps you need to stake to protect staff and customers which include (at the time of writing):
- Completing a Covid-19 risk assessment
- Cleaning more often
- Reminding visitors to wear face coverings where the law says they must (something that is no longer straightforward but you can find more information here)
- Provide adequate ventilation
- Take part in NHS Test and Trace
- Consider the mental health and wellbeing of Covid-19 for yourself and others.
The bottom line? There is still a lot to think about and you will also need to consider the impact of a return on your staff, some of whom will be excited about coming back, but there will be others who may be nervous and fearful. Constant communication and reassurance will be as important, if not more important, than following the guidelines.
Do I need a hybrid working policy?
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has said that:
“Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. Therefore, employers may consider either adapting or updating an existing flexible working policy to include hybrid working as a specific category or introducing a specific hybrid working policy. What is appropriate for each business will depend on their specific context. Whichever decision is made, as hybrid working is a relatively new concept, any new or adapted policy should be issued with supporting guidance and information to enable effective implementation.”
So, whilst you can have a hybrid policy, you don’t have to have one. The decision to have a policy might come down to whether you are looking at introducing something that is going to continue on once the pandemic is behind us, or whether you are introducing something to respond to guidance. Either way, you are going to need to be flexible. Policies have the advantage of providing clarity. Conversely, they might show that you are unwilling to verge from the policy and therefore increase anxiety.
The bottom line? Policies provide a way to provide reassurance and clarity to staff, but they will need to be flexible and will need to be communicated sensitively.
Do I need to amend my employees’ contract of employment?
Once again the CIPD gives guidance here:
“Organisations will need to give careful consideration to the contractual implications of hybrid working. 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. Hybrid working (and indeed other forms of flexible working) can also be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change. You should make sure that employees and managers understand the differences and the implications of both.”
Bottom line? If changes are permanent then you might want to consider changing contracts of employment, if you don’t, make sure that your employees know why.
What do I do if my employee tells me they don’t want to come back to work in the office?
There will be many reasons why employees may not want to come back to the office. As an employer, you don’t have to accept an employee request to work from home (there are some exceptions, notably if someone is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable by their GP).
The bottom line? There will be some jobs that are hard/impossible to do at home, but most employees will have demonstrated that they are as (if not more) productive working from home and the future is likely to be increasingly flexible. What you can legally do is likely to be less important than what is commercially the right thing to do.
Can I require employees to come in for key events, such as meetings?
This is very similar to the response above. Yes, an employer can require employees to come in for key events (subject to some exceptions).
The bottom line? Be sensitive to your employee’s needs. Where you know that you are going to need people to come in, give them plenty of notice and the opportunity to raise any concerns they might have with you.
Here we have tried to answer some of the questions that might have arisen from that announcement. We won’t have covered all of them. Things continue to change all the time. If you have a question that you are struggling to find an answer to, then let us know. As we build up a bank of more FAQs we can share those in a future blog.