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Hybrid work | Re-establishing expectations around office attendance in 2024

Written by Angela Carter on 15 January 2024

With the pandemic forcing a widescale work-from-home experiment, 83% of organisations have since adopted hybrid work models, recognising the benefits of a blended approach.

And it’s not surprising. As well as reducing overhead costs and enhancing employee satisfaction, one report found that 77% of employees would consider leaving their jobs if hybrid work wasn’t an option – a compelling statistic that underscores the prevailing shift towards this way of working and the possible consequences for organisations who fail to adapt.

It seems that hybrid work is here to stay, and for the most part, it’s working for both employers and employees. However, as this trend continues and employees become more accustomed to this newfound flexibility, organisations are encountering a raft of new challenges, as employees test the limits of what’s acceptable within a hybrid working framework. Namely, what should employers do when expectations around office attendance begin to slip?

The root of the problem – why are employees pushing the boundaries of hybrid work?

While, from a legal perspective, hybrid working is simply a combination of working partly from home (or other location) and partly from the workplace, in practice, hybrid working arrangements take many forms, ranging from the very formal to very informal.

In fact, according to CIPD, just 45% of organisations have a formal policy, while 24% take an informal approach and 13% are developing policies through learning and trials. For those whose hybrid working arrangements are more casual, the absence of clear guidelines can increase the potential for, and make it harder to deal with, situations where employees are not adhering to expectations regarding time in the office.

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Reasons for not attending the office – sickness and other common challenges

There are numerous situations in which a hybrid working employee might request, or take it upon themselves, to work from home on a scheduled office day. For example, they might:

  • Have a minor illness but feel well enough to work from home;
  • Opt to work from home during particularly bad weather to avoid the commute;
  • Be expecting a delivery which requires them to be at home; or
  • Have commitments such as picking up their child from school or day care.

All of these scenarios raise questions about the expectations regarding physical presence in the office and underscore the need for clear policies and guidelines. Specifically, establishing clear criteria for illness becomes crucial, as this will help employers to navigate the increasingly common scenario of employees assuming that they can simply work from home when sick.

Top tips for tackling unauthorised at-home days when hybrid working

These situations can be difficult to manage, particularly if the boundaries aren’t clear and issues relating to office attendance aren’t addressed early on, leading to them becoming the norm. One law firm has even gone as far as to track when employees enter the building, data which it then shares with group heads and HR.

For those who feel this approach is a little overzealous, here are some other practical ways to promote office attendance in the world of hybrid work:

1

Set clear guidelines and stick to them.

Employers implementing hybrid work models must articulate precise expectations regarding home versus office attendance, ideally from the outset. Have designated office days been clearly communicated? Additionally, have protocols been established for unforeseen absences on these specified days?

Clarity is paramount, especially where sickness is concerned. The issue of hybrid employees requesting to work from home when sick should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. For example, if an employee has broken their ankle and cannot drive but is fully equipped to work from home, it would be reasonable to allow them to do so. However, if an employee has a sniffle or other minor ailment, it would be reasonable expect them to attend the office; otherwise, this will need to be treated as sickness absence. In a lot of cases, this is likely to mean either unpaid absence or statutory sick pay. What’s important here is consistency amongst managers about how they treat various reasons for hybrid workers wanting to work from home on scheduled office days.

Likewise, if an employee is anticipating a home delivery, is there a protocol for rescheduling their office day within the same week? A well-defined hybrid work policy will help you to manage these issues consistently and effectively.

2

Check the contract.

What is the contractual position? For example, if the employee is contracted to work from 9 to 5, whether on a day at home or in the office, have they made arrangements to ensure they can comply with their contractual obligations whilst still being able to, for example, pick their child up from nursery? If not, consideration may need to be given to invoking the flexible working request process, noting that there may be valid business grounds to reject any such request.

3

Consider issues on a case-by-case basis, while maintaining consistency.

As alluded to above, if some managers are taking a lax attitude to justifications for not attending on scheduled office days and others are taking a harder line, this will likely bring with it arguments of inconsistency and employee relations concerns. You could consider setting up a forum of some kind where managers can discuss these issues with one another to ensure they are on the same page; a simple Teams chat may work for this purpose.

4

Strive for a balanced hybrid work approach.

It’s important for organisations to strike a balance between the benefits of remote work, such as increased flexibility and productivity, and the advantages of in-person collaboration, team engagement, and mentorship. Be prepared to address any resistance from employees regarding adherence to the hybrid work model; persistent non-compliance with attendance expectations without valid reasons may necessitate disciplinary action.

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Proactively prevent hybrid working problems

Do you have a robust hybrid working policy that makes your expectations clear? Do your contracts reflect your hybrid working arrangements? If not, WorkNest can help.

As well as ensuring your essential documentation is fit for hybrid work, our team of Employment Law and HR experts can advise on any issues arising as a result of hybrid working arrangements. This could include dealing with grievances from staff who feel unfairly treated, managing flexible working requests from those who want to work from home on a more permanent basis, and making sure your decisions and policies don’t discriminate against employees with disabilities and other protected characteristics.

For advice and support, contact our team today on 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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