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If the Covid-19 pandemic has signalled one thing to employers, it’s that it is possible for a variety of jobs to be done by employees working from home. And so, with nationwide restrictions being eased, employers are now actively addressing the issue of getting staff back to the office or workplace whilst also considering more flexible ways of working.
Recently, a number of large employers have announced changes to the way in which their staff will work with some major banks revealing that certain employees will now work from home on a permanent basis. For example, in the last few days, accountancy firm EY has announced that its staff will work from home for at least two days each week. Spending some time in the office and some working at home appears to be a balance that many employees are now seeking to achieve as we move towards a post-Covid world. In keeping with the emergence of a plethora of new buzz words (how about furlough or roadmaps?), these new working arrangements have been labelled ‘hybrid working’. So, what exactly does hybrid working mean for employers?
Hybrid working could carry significant benefits for employers and employees alike. Benefits include:
- Happier staff – spending more time at home can lead to a better work/life balance.
- Staff save on the costs of commuting and place value on the time they don’t spend travelling in their car or on public transport.
- More flexibility through working from home means that employees can keep up with other commitments such as taking their children to school or attending appointments without there being any disruption to their work.
- Happier staff could mean a more motivated and better performing workforce.
- A potential reduction in turnover of staff if working arrangements are flexible and suit more employees.
- Reduced costs for businesses if they no longer need city centre offices or are able to downsize but still operate without disruption.
That all being said, changing the working landscape can still provide employers with a number of challenges and careful thought must be given to hybrid working before they are implemented. Employers should give consideration to a range of matters including:
- Is hybrid working even appropriate for your business? Just because it has been possible for staff to work from home for the past year, it does not automatically mean that these arrangements should continue in the future.
- Does hybrid working mean that you could actually restructure your workforce rather than simply change the place of work?
- Which staff will be required to or be given the opportunity of spending some time in the office and some time at home?
- Consultation with staff on hybrid working models is key. Employers will need to avoid the possibility of resentful employees who are not able to enjoy hybrid working and who feel there is no credible reason why they cannot.
- Employers will also need to be careful that when selecting staff for hybrid working, to ensure that there is no unlawful discrimination against specific sections of the workforce.
- Are there any contractual issues arising with changing the place of work?
- Employee welfare remains a fundamental issue. It is well documented that lockdown has affected the mental health of a great number of people. This should remain a key consideration if people are either required to return to the office having spent so long away or will continue working from home in an environment, which could be solitary and with little human contact.
- Employers should also be aware that staff who spend more time in the office may be more ‘visible’ when it comes to opportunities for promotion, training and development. Care should be taken to ensure that hybrid or home workers are not disproportionately affected.
- Despite the huge shift to home-working over the past year, employers should not forget their legal responsibility to ensure a safe system of work. This means undertaking a risk assessment of the employee’s home working environment and providing necessary equipment and training in order to minimise health and safety related claims.
- Home workers can also find it difficult to leave their work behind at the end of the working day, so employers should encourage staff to be disciplined in their work practices. This could include advising them to avoid checking emails after certain times, ensure that they properly log off at the end of the day and refrain from accessing their systems until the following day.
These are just some of the issues facing employers at this critical time for businesses. If you are looking for legal advice that is tailored to you and your business, talk to our friendly employment law team on 01904 275250, or email Nick directly on email@example.com