Hybrid working and home working – The post COVID effects
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have had a dramatic impact on the workplace. Throughout much of 2020 and 2021 a significant proportion of the nation’s workforce has been working from home.
Many employers and employees have seen the benefits of working from home, with numerous employers announcing that they do not propose to ever return to the more traditional, full-time office working.
This certainly indicates that employers have seen no real drop in either the quantity or quality of work that their employees undertake whilst at home and have therefore taken the opportunity to rethink their commercial property and real estate needs.
It is also likely that many employees will be looking for at least some level of flexibility in their current or future employment. It can be expected that the existence (or not) of flexibility may become a significant factor in both the retention and recruitment of staff.
It is likely that the coming years may see legislation to encourage and protect home or hybrid working. Hybrid working can be defined as a blend of working in a central workplace and at home, while homeworking will see employees working exclusively from home.
The Government’s flexible working taskforce has recommended that flexible working become the norm post-pandemic. The House of Lords Select Committee on COVID-19 within its report “Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World”, has called for legislation to strengthen flexible working rights.
Many employers will voluntarily embrace such working models, others may be forced to accept them to retain and attract employees. Either way, there are a number of legal and practical issues to be considered:
- Does it allow for home or hybrid working?
- Can the employer return to exclusive office-based work if they are not satisfied that the arrangement is working?
- Where is the employee permitted to work? Just at their home or can they work where they please (e.g. cafes, libraries etc.)?
- Do home or hybrid workers need to work traditional office hours?
- Can core hours be introduced?
- Can hours be worked around childcare and other commitments?
- Will the employer contribute to employee’s utility bills and broadband?
- Will employees be able to claim expenses for travel to the employer’s premises?
- Are the IT systems sufficiently secure to allow employees to work away from the office?
- Will employees be required to secure confidential documentation?
- How will confidential documentation be safely disposed of?
- Performance monitoring
- How will employers monitor output?
- Are there measurable key performance indicators that can be used?
- Employers may consider monitoring software but if they do, the employees should be informed.
- Health and safety
- Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment.
- Employers may need to consider providing office equipment and assessing whether an employee’s home is suitable. Employees working from their beds or sofas will likely not be suitable.
- Employers need to give consideration to employees’ mental health. Regular online meetings should be considered to ensure employees are engaged and do not become isolated.
- Employers also need to consider how to encourage employees to stop working. Where the home and workplace become blurred it is possible that employees will not switch off and will do excessive hours which may ultimately lead to burn out.
Home and hybrid working is already prevalent in many sectors, industries and workplaces and the likelihood is that this will only increase. Of course, it will not be appropriate for all roles and businesses but employers are encouraged to give careful consideration as to whether home, hybrid or flexible working may work.
For employers who are either considering or already allow employees to work from home, they should review their existing employment contracts, policies, staff handbooks, insurance and IT systems to ensure that they are fully protected.
At GA Solicitors we have a great deal of experience and knowhow in drafting employment documentation and can therefore assist in ensuring that employers offering home working, hybrid working or flexible working are protected.