In May 2021 the government’s Flexible Working Task Force recommended that flexible working should be the default position for all employees and workers. So far there is no indication if or when the government will legislate on this point but the lessons learned during the pandemic and the trend towards hybrid working may erode some of the problems identified by the Task Force in any event.
Unlike flexible working, which can involve changes in hours worked as well as the place that work is done, most hybrid working arrangements anticipate that the employee will continue to perform the same role and work the same hours, but with some flexibility around the location where work is done.
Whilst a successful flexible working request usually results in a permanent change to an employee’s contract of employment, most employers are introducing hybrid working as a discretionary arrangement, which may be revoked or amended either temporarily or permanently, as business needs require. This flexibility may suit employees too, as flexible working requests are limited to one every 12 months.
Other important issues to consider when implementing a hybrid working policy include:
- Is there a minimum amount of time per week that everyone is expected to attend the office? The experience of lockdown has made many businesses realise how important physically working together is for cohesion and maintenance of corporate culture and ways of working, not to mention training new hires.
- Can an individual work remotely work from anywhere? During lockdown many individuals found themselves working from outside the UK, whether by necessity or choice. These arrangements may have unforeseen consequences in terms of corporate tax, payroll tax/social security and employment law obligations and need careful vetting before approval. Many employers are stipulating that remote work locations must be within the same jurisdiction and within a reasonable travelling distance of the contractual place of work.
- How will individuals be managed and supervised when remote working? Managers need to actively guard against an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude and particular attention needs to be given to ensure equal treatment of staff who are working in the office and those who are not.
- What is the policy on office equipment for home working and payment of any additional costs for heat, light, broadband when home working?
- Insurance – both employer and employee need to ensure that they have appropriate insurance cover for home working.
- Health and safety – employers still have an obligation to take reasonable care of the health and safety of employees whilst in their remote workplace. As a minimum employees should be asked to complete a health and safety self-assessment for their remote workplace.
- Data security – what are the implications of remote working for employer’s confidentiality and GDPR obligations?
- Monitoring performance – there have been a number of stories in the media regarding employers covertly monitoring employees’ time spent on line from remote locations or even their key strokes. If the reports are true, that sort of arrangement is likely to fall foul of GDPR and privacy requirements. In reality most employers can judge productivity and quality of output without going to these lengths. However there is an emerging issue with the blurring of the home/work boundary and people working far longer hours at home, which raises health and safety issues.
Finally, it has become clear during lockdown that working from home does not suit everybody, whether through lack of suitable space, the need for social contact or in some cases the increased risk of domestic abuse. The needs of those who want to work full time from the office must continue to be met, ensuring that they have a safe working environment; appropriate management support and a fair allocation of work and development opportunities.