Our top tips are a helpful guide when making and implementing such important business decisions.

Organisations country-wide are grappling with decisions around what their future way of working will look like. Undeniably, one of the biggest changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, has been the sudden shift away from a “9 to 5” office-based working model towards remote, and often more flexible, ways of working. 

As we move past the blanket “work from home” message, careful thought is required to make sure the model chosen works for your organisation and its people moving forwards. Our 5 top tips below are a helpful guide when making and implementing such important business decisions.

1. Consult with staff to consider what arrangements will best suit the organisation

The expectation of number of hours in the office versus home and any flexibility in those working hours are important topics to grapple with at an early stage.

It is vital for organisations to talk with their staff about proposed working arrangements and seek consensus before implementation.

Bear in mind also that even once these decisions are made eligible employees may still submit statutory flexible working requests, which will need to be dealt with in a reasonable manner and by following the statutory procedure.

2. Update contracts accordingly and put clear policies in place

Contracts may need to be updated (with the agreement of staff) to reflect new ways of working, and to ensure that they are in line with statutory requirements.

Organisations should consider whether new policies are required to clarify hybrid working arrangements, and whether existing policies require updating.  It is likely that you will, at the very least, need to have a hybrid working policy in place. Other key issues to consider will be the policies and procedures in place around provision of equipment and expenses, health and safety, data protection and confidentiality, performance management and appraisals, sickness absence, and discipline and grievances.

These are very important steps, which are easily and often forgotten.

3. Facilitate effective collaboration and team working (and keep this under review)

One of the challenges of the hybrid working model is ensuring that it does not adversely effect team working or hinder the ability for staff to collaborate.  Careful consideration should therefore be given to how these can be encouraged and facilitated in practice.

How are the arrangements practically going to work? How will teams collaborate, communicate effectively, and stay connected in this hybrid world?  How have you been working through the pandemic and will those methods still be suitable where staff are both at home and in the office? How will staff at home access training and supervision to ensure they aren’t disadvantaged?  Particularly if they are more junior members of staff, or new joiners.

These are just a few of the important questions that if addressed early, and kept under review, should make your new way of working a triumph.

4. Ensure equality in the way staff are treated regardless of where they may be working

Care should be given to ensure a two-tier workforce is not created – with those working remotely experiencing or perceiving differential treatment to those staff based in the office.

With certain protected groups potentially being more likely to prefer and choose remote working, organisations should be mindful of potential discrimination issues that could arise.

Any differences in relation to performance management, training, career development opportunities, promotion and benefits of those working from home when compared to those working in the office could give rise to such issues, and should be avoided.

5. Be mindful of workplace culture and the impact that hybrid working could have on employee wellbeing

Whilst many have felt the benefits of remote working, organisations should be mindful of the impact it can have on a collegiate work culture, and on employee wellbeing.  In addition, the increased blurring of the boundary between professional and personal life and the hyper connected work culture brought about by large-scale remote working, has led to work-life balance issues for some.

Appropriate risk assessments must be carried out to identify any risks posed to employees’ physical and mental health as a result of remote working, and measures must be put in place to mitigate these.

Healthy work-life balance for staff, and respect for professional and personal boundaries, should be encouraged and steps taken to facilitate this.  For example, be clear on what working hours are and when these should be worked, encourage staff to take lunch breaks and avoid scheduling meetings then, monitor team workloads and seek to ensure work is evenly distributed, and encourage staff to take annual leave. 

Stay alive to the impact that remote working, and particularly the isolation that this can bring for some, can have on employee’s wellbeing and mental health.  Consider whether informal support networks might assist, encourage social activities and think about health and wellbeing initiatives within the organisation.  Foster a culture where staff feel able to discuss any issues they may be experiencing, and signpost staff to resources they can rely on when in need of support.

Our recent webinar, Beyond Covid-19 Five Key Considerations for a Post-Pandemic Workplace, considers this important topic further, and any member of the Employment Team will be happy to discuss any particular questions or issues that you may have in this context.