It’s two years since the world was shaken and we saw the start of the COVID pandemic which gripped all parts of our daily life. Now well and truly into 2022, we are seeing infection rates falling following a sustained and successful vaccination programme.
That is a welcome change in fortunes for the country but what we are also seeing is a whole new way of working – especially for office professionals – which includes the unlikely return to five days a week in the office.
What was previously known as “working from home”, has now been replaced by ‘hybrid working’, a new term which is underpinned by collaboration software such as Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams. It has become so normal to video call or instant message a colleague or a customer, but here in our latest Q&A we explore the key facts around hybrid working, dispel some myths, and what employers and employees really must be aware of.
Q. So what exactly is hybrid working?
It’s amazing that many people still fail to understand what hybrid working actually is and what it means. Put simply, it is a type of flexible working where employees generally split their working week between the office and a remote location, usually the employee’s home.
Q. Why is hybrid working worth considering?
The COVID pandemic has been responsible for the biggest shake up to the way we work since the end of the Second World War in 1945. It has changed people’s outlook but also made many employers more relaxed about where their employees work from.
The pandemic has shown that a flexible workforce can have significant benefits for employers and employees – both financially and in terms of health and wellbeing.
Hybrid working has helped people to find a balance between work and home but what it has shown, and what studies and research back up, is that hybrid working can help to harness productivity and help employers attract a more national workforce at a time when there is a scramble for the best talent.
Q. But does an employee have the right to hybrid working?
There is absolutely no legal right to hybrid working. However, any employee that has at least 26 weeks’ service and has not made a previous flexible working request in the last 12 months can make a formal flexible working request.
It is always advisable that employers have a flexible working policy in place which sets out the procedure to be followed and it is vital that a meaningful consultation takes place regarding any flexible working request before a decision is made. If that request is accepted, then it will become a permanent change to the employee’s Contract of Employment.
Q. What, if any, are the legal implications?
As mentioned above, the formal route is for an employee to make a flexible working request which will lead to a permanent change to their Contract of Employment. However, this can be subject to an agreed trial period.
The more informal approach for a business is to have a hybrid working policy. Such a policy is a non-contractual change, but does provide flexibility and guidance to both employers and employees. As it is a non-contractual change, the terms of this can be amended at any time.
Employers should still be aware that even though it is stated to be a non-contractual change, it could lead to being an implied term of a Contract of Employment. It is imperative that there is a policy in place and that the wording for any such policy is clear.
Q. Why do some businesses not support hybrid working?
It isn’t ideal for some types of businesses, including those who require employees to be at the workplace, such as manufacturing firms. Some employers also fear that it misses face-to-face opportunities with customers and there have been issues of resentment between those in the office and those who work at home more.
Q. So is hybrid working here to stay?
It is certainly a big part of the future of the workplace but ultimately it is down to companies to decide what works best for them.
As ever, communication is key and policies really can put in place successful hybrid working and understanding so everyone knows where they stand.
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