Remote working has been a key feature of the pandemic; however, the Government is no longer advising workers to work from home where possible. The Working Safely During the Coronavirus Guidance for Offices also now states that employers should speak to their staff to agree arrangements for returning to the workplace.
What is Hybrid working?
While some employees have grown weary of working from home and longed to return to the office full time, many employees prefer the flexibility that hybrid working has to offer. In fact, according to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by Microsoft UK, 51% of UK workers who were able to combine office work with home working said they would consider leaving their company if they no longer had this flexibility.
For some businesses, 100% attendance in the workplace works best or may even be a necessity, however for other businesses there may be advantages to adopting hybrid working patterns, such as attracting and retaining staff and saving on office space and overheads.
The shift towards returning to the workplace is likely to be welcome in many quarters but it does present various challenges, such as how to introduce a hybrid working policy and how to deal with employees who are reluctant to return to the workplace.
How to introduce a hybrid policy
The first step to introducing a successful hybrid working policy is consulting with the staff. If there is sufficient appetite for hybrid working the employer may wish to introduce a formal policy setting out specific criteria e.g how many days per week employees are required to work in the office, whether or not they can decide on which days to work from home and any times when attendance at the office is mandatory e.g. for key tasks, meetings or events.
By introducing a hybrid working policy this should ensure that employees’ requests are dealt with in a fair, transparent and consistent way and without compromising the smooth running of the business. It is important to remember that whether an employer has a specific hybrid working policy in place or not, a request by an employee to make changes to their usual place of work is essentially a flexible working request and the employer should therefore ensure it follows the statutory framework for dealing with flexible working requests as well as any internal company policies.
As for employees who are reluctant to return to the office, it is important to ensure that the employer has fully explained the health and safety practices that have been put in place to make the workplace as Covid-secure as possible.
The employee should also be asked to explain why they are unwilling to return to the workplace and efforts made to address his or her concerns. Particular care should be taken if it appears that the employee’s anxiety relates to a protected characteristic for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. An example of this would be an employee with a disability who believes that this renders him or her more vulnerable to serious illness if they are exposed to the Coronavirus. If they are forced the return to the office in these circumstances or subjected to disciplinary proceedings, they may argue that this amounts to indirect disability discrimination. It should however be noted that the recent Tribunal case of X v Y has provided helpful clarification that the mere fear of contracting Covid and passing it on to others is not protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
As can be seen, a return to the workplace, whether on a full-time or hybrid basis, can present challenges for the employer, however, these can be overcome if handled correctly.
If you have any questions on this topic please contact the team on 0800 84 94 101