The HR considerations of hybrid working

Written on 1 June 2021

When it comes to the world of work, one key theme has stood out in the COVID-19 narrative: an acceleration of already emerging trends.

The same no doubt applies to the workplace of the future. Whilst being office-based was certainly the predominant way of working pre-pandemic, some were already recognising the benefits of co-located working long before coronavirus forced businesses to do things differently, and questioning whether this was the way forward for the sake of productivity, retention and employee wellbeing.

Now the case is stronger than ever, and though most are unlikely to stay remote-first, hybrid models are shaping up to be the common solution going forward, as they seemingly offer the best of both worlds.

But as with any major business decision, organisations must now step back and address the key questions: why and how?

Why consider hybrid working?

Naturally, the desires of the workforce will act as the key metric in gauging the potential efficacy of introducing a hybrid model.

To gain some first-hand insight on the matter, we conducted a poll among our audience earlier this year. We questioned whether, as Rishi Sunak predicted in a statement in April, employees would “vote with their feet” and quit their jobs if made to work from home permanently.

19% said ‘yes’. However, conversely, 20% said they would quit if they couldn’t work from home. Though just a snapshot, the dilemma for employers is obvious: consensus is divided, and there are strong opinions on both sides.

That said, according to a study by the Adecco Group UK and Ireland conducted last year, 79% of people do think it’s important that their company implements more flexibility in how and where they work – a slightly more conclusive result. 

This sentiment is somewhat reflected in our own findings; the fact that 81% of people wouldn’t go to the extreme of quitting if made to work from home, or would actually prefer it, does suggest that people are generally open to this approach. At the same time, losing 19% of your workforce by forcing remote working upon them isn’t something to take lightly.

With all of this in mind, a hybrid approach might be the best way forward. After all, large, diverse groups of people naturally have different needs and desires, as well as different personal circumstances and personality traits, and it’s becoming ever clearer that a one-size-fits-all solution simply won’t work.

For example, those who wish to remain remote often cite improved mental health, better work-life balance and increased productivity. However, on the other side of the fence, those who are eager to get back to office life, such as working parents or those who enjoy the social aspect, may conceivably argue the same benefits from their point of view, given the greater home/office separation, opportunities for socialising and clarity on childcare arrangements.

Others will fall somewhere in the middle, recognising the perks of both ways of working. For these individuals, the option of flexibility will be welcome.

What’s more, this diplomatic approach is likely to reflect well on the employer, further bolstering the business case for a hybrid model. For instance, organisations may see upticks in performance and engagement, the attraction and retention of top talent, and various savings on overheads.

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Is hybrid working a good fit?

But whilst the neutral picture may seem rosy, it’s only natural that a hybrid model won’t suit every organisation.

With this in mind, employers must be vigilant in ascertaining whether this approach aligns with their culture and business objectives.

For instance, organisations that;

  • Are (or are looking to become) more outcome-focused; and/or
  • Have (or are aiming for) a high-trust, autonomy culture

may benefit from a hybrid approach, as this puts the focus less on ‘bums on seats’ and more on productivity and individuals achieving what they set out to do.

Another key variable is technology. Businesses with a technologically-able workforce and strong IT infrastructure will likely be better suited to a flexible approach. Can some of your induction training be facilitated online for roles that hybrid working might apply to? Are at least half of your workforce desk-based 80 to 90% of the time? If so, it’s likely that hybrid working will be a good fit.

Finally, in making this decision, it may be wise to look to your leadership team. Are they prepared to consider hybrid working as an engagement tool? Do they understand the links to high-performance working? Modern, diplomatic leaders with a willingness for agility and evolution are far more likely to buy into hybrid working and promote this approach within wider workforce, making successful implementation more likely.

Implementing hybrid working

Making the business case for hybrid working is one thing, but implementation is another matter.

First things first, train, communicate and support your managers. Make sure they know what your hybrid working policy says and how to execute it, as this will be essential to successful implementation. With this in mind, keep your policy and procedure simple to understand. Sometimes if policies are too convoluted or too detail-heavy, this can overcomplicate things and make them harder to follow, setting you up to fail.

To further combat confusion, it may be a good idea to create an FAQ document that you can circulate amongst your employees. This can cover a number of hybrid working scenarios that don’t necessarily sit within a policy but nonetheless need to be addressed. You could also consider establishing a working committee to regularly review the policy and communicate any changes to the wider workforce.

You will also want to make sure that your policy is consistent with your organisational values and objectives.

Further, with two workplaces to juggle, employers must ensure that workers are safe and healthy on both sites. This is particularly significant when it comes to office spaces. Whilst the worst of the pandemic appears to be over, basic social distancing and hygiene measures still need to be applied and any shared space must be compliant with this.

This leads on to the issue of supervision. Given ongoing social distancing requirements and limits on the number of people allowed in the workplace, it’s important to ensure the right level of supervisory presence on site. Aside from overseeing that things are run smoothly from an operational perspective, this will also help to ensure staff are safe and supported. 

Similarly, while at home, staff should have the necessary equipment to work safely and effectively, and a risk assessment should be conducted to identify and address any potential hazards within the home (both physical and wellbeing-related).

Finally, check the legalities of what you are trying to implement. Hybrid working has various employment law implications, from contractual changes to potential discrimination issues. These all need to be understood and ironed out to prevent your plans being marred by non-compliance. We discuss six such considerations here.

Queries or concerns around hybrid working?

For many organisations, hybrid working is a largely untested area, and there are many practical, legal and HR implications to consider.

If you’re not sure how to execute your plans compliantly, our Employment Law and HR experts can answer your questions and guide you through the process to help you make hybrid working a success. We can also review and amend your contracts and policies to ensure they are robust, fit for purpose and offer maximum flexibility for your organisation. 

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

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