As the Government lifts remaining lockdown restrictions, including its guidance to work from home where possible, many employers will be considering how to approach a large-scale return to the workplace.

After the experiences of remote working enforced by the lockdown of the early stages of the pandemic, research by the CIPD suggests that employee’s expectations around work have changed significantly. Whilst before the pandemic, as little as 35% of employers offered staff the opportunity to work from home, this number is now expected to exceed 60%.

The research concludes that looking forward, the majority of employees would prefer hybrid working – a balance of office working and home working – rather than a return to full-time office work or continued full-time remote working.

This indicates a significant shift and presents employers with the opportunity to think more flexibly about effective working practices, and how they can meet the changing expectations of their employees.

The difference between remote work and hybrid work

When putting together a plan for the return to the workplace, the focus should still be on safety in relation to COVID-19 in the short-term. Whilst Government guidance is lifting, there are still health and wellbeing risks to mitigate.

Therefore, it would be advisable to plan for interim hybrid working in the short term during the transition away from restrictions, whilst also considering a longer-term flexible working strategy.

Vivienne Tolley, HR Director at Smith Cooper comments:

“Hybrid working is a fairly new concept which has come about as a result of the enforced remote working caused by the pandemic. Whilst hybrid working is different from remote working in that it entails a combination of working a certain number of days at home and a certain number in the workplace, employers can draw on some of the lessons and experiences from this period of remote working to inform their planning on flexible working policies”.

“It is clear that individual experiences of enforced home working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have varied widely. Where some employees have found homeworking to be a more productive environment with fewer distractions, with the benefit of an improved work-life balance, others have experienced the opposite”.

“This means when considering how hybrid working could work for their organisation, employers should take a person-centred approach, which is most likely to result in a hybrid working arrangement that suits the employee, the team and the organisation”.

“Employers should also be aware of the changing expectations around work, and consider how not offering hybrid working options could present future risks, such as increased employee turnover, reduced employee engagement and limitations on the ability to attract talent in the future”.

Implementing a hybrid working policy

As hybrid working is a form of flexible working, employers may wish to update an existing flexible working policy, or introduce a separate, specific hybrid working policy.

As hybrid working is a relatively new concept, clear guidance and information should be set out where a new or adapted policy is introduced.

When developing policies and procedures on hybrid working, employers will need to consider the following:

  • How hybrid working may intersect with other flexible working policies
  • Determining which roles are eligible for hybrid working
  • Whether hybrid working will be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change, or whether it will entail a formal change to terms and conditions of employment
  • How employees should request hybrid working
  • Reviewing any other related policies where appropriate such as data protection and homeworking

In a hybrid working environment employers will need to take steps to ensure the equality of experience between employees in the office and employees at home when it comes to areas such as development opportunities and performance management.

There is no definitive way to implement hybrid working, and employers will need to consider how hybrid working will work for them in terms of employee demand, and what will need to be in place in order for these new ways of working to be effective. For example, here at Smith Cooper, we have recently introduced a flexible working policy to empower our team members, and give them a greater sense of responsibility, ownership and control within their working lives. Our approach to hybrid working is aligned with our own business demands, and facilitates our desire to create, foster and celebrate a culture of flexibility in order to positively impact our people, our clients and our wider communities.

If you would like any help on implementing a similar hybrid working policy, or other flexible working policies, please get in touch with Vivienne Tolley, HR Services Director.