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So you’ve decided to allow hybrid working – here’s 3 questions you may have now

Written by Alexandra Farmer on 1 November 2021

With normality returning, many organisations have made the decision to roll out remote and hybrid working on a more permanent basis. Some are still in the process of dealing with flexible working requests, while others have already settled into new working arrangements and are now putting plans in place to address potential problems that may result from a more dispersed workforce.

Whatever stage you’re at when it comes to implementing hybrid working, here are three common questions our team are being asked right now – and how to address these issues legally and pragmatically.

How do we ensure fairness and equality between home and office-based employees?

If you’ve adopted or are planning to adopt a hybrid model, you’ve probably already asked yourself one very pertinent question: how do we ensure everyone is treated fairly and evenly, regardless of their location?

Indeed, by being less visible, those who are based remotely may be at a disadvantage in a number of areas, including their relationships with managers, training and development opportunities, and even pay and rewards. However, our research suggests that equity in progression and promotion prospects is the number one concern; less than half (44%) of employers are confident that homeworkers and office-based employees will be treated fairly and evenly in this area over the next 12 months, and employees are even less convinced, with just 37% confident that opportunities between the two will be equal.

There are a number of reasons why it may be harder for homeworkers to climb the career ladder, and why office-based employees are more likely to get promoted – from missing out on important discussions, to less opportunity to showcase their skills and connect with people, and perhaps even the perception that they are less invested in their career. One study found that homeworking negatively impacts promotion rate, despite evidence that working from home positively impacts productivity.

To combat this, it’s essential that all colleagues, no matter where they work, are informed of job and training opportunities. It’s also important to ensure that business and team updates are appropriately shared with all. This is commonly now dealt with through group emails, though these shouldn’t replace actual conversations which those in the office are more likely to be a part of. If you are organising a meeting in the office, be sure to invite home-based colleagues to attend either in person or via online tools such as Zoom or Teams.

Of course, from a recruitment or promotion perspective, some roles may need to be delivered in certain ways – a team leader, for example, may need to be office-based if the majority of the team are. Similarly, if staff are interested in new development opportunities, expectations about how the role is to be delivered should be made clear so that people can be aware of the requirement when putting themselves forward.

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What if we need employees to come into the office occasionally?

You may be happy to accommodate more flexible working arrangements, but there may be occasions when you reasonably require employees to come into the office, such as for a team meeting, training session or event.

Can employers therefore insist that a percentage of the employee’s contractual hours be in the office environment or that they must attend the office on an ad-hoc basis?

The answer is yes, subject to the terms of an employee’s Contract of Employment. It’s very important when you are agreeing new working arrangements that contractual changes give you the flexibility for the needs of the business and the particular role.

If the employee previously worked in the office and/or attended as needed without complaint but is now resisting, you should explore the reason for their reluctance so that any concerns can be considered and, where possible, reassurance given.

If you introducing permanent homeworking or hybrid arrangements, it is important to include these requirements within the Contract of Employment. Don’t forget to include the same for any new starters to protect your position and prevent issues later down the line.

How should we deal with managers requesting to work from home?

While some roles can be performed just as well from home, many would argue that the inherent nature of management positions – supporting, supervising and training a team – requires managers to be physically present in the office. Many employers are therefore unsure how to respond to these more senior members of staff requesting to work remotely.

There are two issues here. First, can you reasonably deny a flexible working request from a manager, if other employees have been granted permission to work from home? And, equally, if you grant managers to permission to work from home, are you then obligated to allow other employees to do the same?

Ultimately, any flexible working request should be considered on its own merits, taking into account the impact of working from home and the needs of the organisation. Some roles may lend themselves to home or hybrid working; other roles may not. 

Approving one individual’s request doesn’t mean the employer is bound to this position and must approve all others. However, it’s important that any statutory flexible working requests are given fair and reasonable consideration, and that if they are turned down, you have a valid business reason. This goes for managers as well.

Say, for example, a manager who is currently on an office-based contract requests permanent homeworking, having worked remotely during the pandemic. Now that the work from home advice has been revoked, if you feel they need to work collaboratively from the office at least part of the week, it may be reasonable to offer a hybrid approach instead. If their request has come through your flexible working procedure, part of the process will be to explore alternatives. Therefore, you can put this forward for consideration. 

By exploring the needs of the role with them and referring to their application form – which should encourage employees to think about what effect the proposed change in working pattern will have both on their work and their colleagues – a compromise may be achievable.

If in doubt, seek advice

Whatever your situation, and whatever form of flexible working you are exploring, our Employment Law and HR experts can help you to manage requests compliantly, overcome difficult scenarios confidently, and ensure your contracts and handbooks align with your new working arrangements to avoid issues down the line.

For advice and support, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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