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Hybrid working: a new blended way of working

Research indicates that after the pandemic a lot of workers will want to continue to work from home at least some of the time, presenting new opportunities for organisations to establish new ways of working.

In addition to this, we have heard about how some high profile companies, including BP, have told office-based staff that they will be expected to work from home for a certain number of days a week as part of a post-pandemic shift to flexible working patterns.

This new working arrangement may be welcoming and attractive to many businesses.

Whilst some employees may want to work from home all the time, and organisations may or may not support this, both may benefit from a balance where they work both in the office and at home. This has led to the use of a relatively new term: hybrid working. Many organisations are now considering what ‘hybrid’ means for them, how they might meet this new arrangement, and what will need to be in place in order for these new ways of working to be effective.

In the future, work will be something you ‘do’, not somewhere you ‘go’.

What is hybrid working?

Hybrid working is where a worker works part of their time at home (or another remote ‘offsite’ location) and part ‘onsite’ in the office.

Hybrid working arrangements could include the following and organisations will need to decide which arrangement works for them.

  1. ‘The at-will model’ – employees will choose the work arrangement that works best for them on any given day.
  1. ‘The split-week model’ – the week is split between so many days in the office and so many offsite.
  1. ‘Shift work’ – employees will work a shift pattern between home and office in a shift system. Often early and late shifts may be included.
  1. ‘Week-by-week’ – employees alternate between working from home and working onsite on a weekly basis. Particularly useful where there are large teams in the office.

What are the benefits of hybrid working?

Correctly implemented, the benefits to both employees and the organisation can include:

  • a better work-life balance,
  • more time for family and friends,
  • a saving on commuting in both time and money,
  • a saving on office space. We are seeing some businesses giving up their office space,
  • less staff in the office at any one time. Social distancing is still required,
  • It recognises the value of having staff working in the office together, but also offers a more flexible and agile way of working which some staff will enjoy.
  • Upskilling in IT and people skills,
  • higher levels of employee job satisfaction and reduced absence rates.

Hybrid working for the short term

As we progress through the Government’s road map, and at least until the end of June 2021, hybrid working may prove a good interim measure, even if you do not think it will work in the long term for your business.

The Government is still advising employees should work from home where possible, and we still are required to put safety measures in place such as social distancing.

Remember the 3 key tests:

  1. Is it essential?
  2. Is it sufficiently safe?
  3. is it mutually agreed?

Planning for the long term

Organisations are now considering all types of roles as suitable for homeworking. Even those that were not considered as suitable previously. Some roles are clearly not suitable and some can be suitable with some adaptations.

What are the considerations for employers moving to this way of working and how should organisations implement it?

There is no single approach. Each organisation will be different and need to consider different things.

We look at some of these considerations in more detail.

  • Drafting a Policy and determining a procedure

Employers will need to consider whether to enforce hybrid working with everyone whose roles are suitable, or to offer it and, similar to flexible working, employees will need to request it.

Either way, it is recommended that organisation either create a hybrid working policy or adapt and update an existing flexible working policy to include hybrid working.  Whichever is decided, hybrid working is a new concept and it will be important to introduce it to staff.

When developing a hybrid policy and procedure the following should be included:

  • Setting out who (or which role types) is eligible for hybrid working.
  • Explaining how to request hybrid working.
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for hybrid workers and managers. 
  • How hybrid working overlaps with other forms of flexible working. 

Up to now flexible working has been very much an individual request and approach. However, hybrid working may need to be considered on more of a team or organisation wide approach.

Whilst developing a hybrid working policy, organisations should also review other related policies including, expenses, IT usage, homeworking and data protection. 

  • Legal implications of hybrid working

It is likely that implementing hybrid working will affect and change the Contract of Employment, especially in terms of working location.

Where an individual requests hybrid working and the organisation considers whether to approves the request or not, this should be treated much the same as a flexible working request. Any approval will amount to a change to terms and conditions of employment.

However, where the organisation is requiring all or some staff to move to hybrid working, this will require a consultation process with staff as it will permanently change the work location (for at least some of the week).

Other legal implications of hybrid (or homeworking) include:

  • Home insurance,
  • Landlord approval,
  • Security in terms of equipment,
  • Tax implications

 

  • Communication and engagement

Hybrid working will only be successful if excellent communication is in place.

Without effective communication there will be a blockage and break down in information, knowledge gaps, poor team working and exclusion of workers who are not in the office.

Here are some of the considerations for effective communication:

  • When introducing hybrid working, engage with everyone throughout the organisation, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns.
  • Develop a communication plan to share plans for future hybrid working with all employees, including information on how to request hybrid working. 
  • When holding team meetings, consider whether you will hold them all online or all face to face. Whatever you chose, ensure that all attendees are available and can attend. Avoid having meetings where some employees are in a room and some are remote. This makes the meeting experience very different for those remotely and makes communication difficult.
  • Consider what technology you are going to use and ensure it is inclusive for everyone.
  • Ensure staff experience not just online communication, but human contact as well. This will encourage team building.

As well as communication and engagement, trust from both sides will play a big part in making the arrangement work.

  • Skills

To ensure the hybrid arrangement works, being people focused will be a key skill. Skills such as customer rapport, excellent customer skills and people skills are going to be essential.

As well as these people skills, other skills are going to be important, such as technical skills, data handling skills, analytical and digital skills and administrative skills.

Consider any training and development requirements for workers and managers. This may include performance management, building effective communication and team building skills. They may also require guidance on technology.

  • Technology and equipment

Technology plays a critical role in hybrid working. 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. Many of us had not even heard or used Zoom before, let alone understanding the extend of tools such as teams and how much information you can share remotely.

As a result of the pandemic many employees have had to get up to speed with new technologies such as online meetings and collaborative communication tools.

Although many organisations had to build employee digital capabilities to support working from home rapidly, not everyone is fully competent with all of the technologies that will enable hybrid working and further training may be necessary.

Organisations may wish to consider the following:

  • Supporting employees in fully using available technology, as well as using them in a way that supports health and wellbeing. 
  • Reviewing systems and equipment available in offices and provided by individuals in order to assess whether it will appropriately support hybrid forms of working. 
  • Providing a mix of recommended tools (with implementation support) to enable hybrid meetings and collaboration. 
  • Putting in place appropriate security measures to ensure system and data integrity.

In addition to technology, considering what other equipment will support effective and healthy remote working, including the provision of office furniture or mobile devices.

  • Wellbeing

The employee wellbeing implications of COVID-19 will require focus for some time. Hybrid working puts wellbeing at the front of this focus.

Hybrid working may support improved wellbeing through reducing commuting time, providing employees with more autonomy around their schedules and extra time for health and wellbeing activities. Hybrid working may however bring with it specific challenges around work-life balance and managing the boundaries between work and home. 

Consider the following:

  • Providing training and support to employees on managing work-life balance whilst working in a hybrid way / working from home.
  • Offering training on digital wellbeing and having healthy habits in relation to technology use, including helping employees to mindfully disconnect. 
  • Helping managers to understand the potential wellbeing implications of hybrid working and equipping them to have appropriate wellbeing conversations.
  • Ongoing mental health support and information for all employees. 
  • Ensuring managers are aware of potential signs and symptoms of poor wellbeing or mental health, as these may be weaker whilst employees are working in a remote or hybrid way.

(credit source CIPD)

  • Performance management

When employees are working remotely or more flexibly, their performance may be harder to observe. In the short term, whilst the pandemic and its immediate implications are ongoing, employees may not be able to be as productive as normal, and managers may need to adjust their expectations (and formal objectives) accordingly.

Longer term, instead of assessing employees via time in the office (or in virtual meetings), managers will need to adjust to assessing performance through outcomes, contribution and value. Managers will not be able to monitor every aspect of an employee’s work when they are working remotely, nor should this normally be necessary.

Consider some of the following:

  • How equipped are people managers to manage performance based upon outcomes, objectives and results?
  • Are current performance management systems and processes fit for purpose in a remote environment?
  • Does current organisational culture reward or encourage presenteeism, and if so, how can this be addressed?
  • Ensuring managers have 121 time with team members on a regular basis to discuss performance and update objectives.
  • Having mechanisms to identify and reward great performance, as well as address poor performance with hybrid workers. These systems are likely to already been in place but may need to be adapted for a changing context or reminders about good practice issued.

(credit source CIPD)