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Hybrid and Remote Working Continuation

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Written by: SafeWorkforce
19th May

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees began hybrid and/or remote working. However, in the new post-covid world of work, it is now time to consider whether these methods of working are still working for  business.

Our research shows many businesses have still not made a return to fully working from business premises despite this being the ‘place of work’ listed on their employees contracts of employment.

Assessing the Benefits and Drawbacks of Hybrid and Remote Working Arrangements

Whilst there are benefits to working hybrid/remotely, there can also be drawbacks. A common concern is that employees are not able to work collaboratively or share knowledge as easily. As such when assessing whether employees should work at the office, there are benefits to consider such as sharing creativity and the opportunity to provide training to colleagues. This is especially important for employees that are newer to the working world as when working from home, they have a lack of exposure to colleagues with more experience.

Balancing Creativity, Knowledge Sharing, and Employee Experience in the Workplace

Whilst being able to work in a hybrid way has accelerated a shift towards a better work-life balance for most employees meaning a positive impact on family life and their wellbeing, there is the decrease in the ability to build and maintain good working relationships and environments which could impact overall employee morale within the company.

We can probably argue the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid working vs office working, but if the place of work is affecting the performance and quality of work, and/or the working environment, then maybe it is time to consider if this way of working is right for the business going forward?

However, you will want to assess the situation carefully to an impact on employee relations and retention of staff. As the employer you have the right to insist that employees work from the office if that is their stated place of work within their contract statement and employees would be unable to refuse that request but the risk of this on your retention figures is something to consider. Might affected resign or go work for a competitor where there are more flexible rules on hybrid / remote working?You would also want to consider how long an employee has been working from home and if this has become an implied term?

The Impact of Hybrid and Remote Work on Employee Morale, Retention, and Competitiveness

The FlexJobs’ 2022 Career Pulse Survey found that 65% of respondents want to work remotely full-time, whilst 32% of the respondents want a hybrid-working arrangement. This totals that 97% of employees desire some form of remote work. Within this same survey, 57% of the respondents said that they would leave their job if their company wouldn’t offer remote working options. So, could that mean that having a remote/hybrid working option available makes you more competitive in the job market?

What do we do if our employment contracts state the office as the place of work but we want to implement a hybrid-working arrangement?

Firstly, if you haven’t got a specific policy in place then it would wise to set some clear ground rules  so employees know what is expected from them. For example, if you want to allow people to work hybrid or remotely but not be a full-time solution, it is best to outline this to them and state something similar to “you are expected to work 3 days in the office”.

Another example is if you wanted to make employees work from the office on set days, you could state the days that they are expected to be in the office such as on Mondays and Fridays in order to monitor productivity of employees. Then maybe, you could be flexible and allow the employees to choose the 3rd day that they want to attend the office.

Whatever you decide, it is then worth following this up with a letter confirming the change to the affected employee(s), so it is outlined to them clearly what their place of work and/or working arrangements are.

What if I don’t want to make hybrid-working an employment right but an employee puts in a flexible working request?

At the moment, employees have the right to make a flexible working request as long as they have been continuously employed for 26 weeks or more. This is a right to request only and an agreement is not guaranteed.

Traditionally, flexible working requests have been made by full-time employees who want to amend their hours of work, or working days but now post pandemic, there is an increase in flexible working requests for hybrid or remote working so employees can work from home. 

Because of this, it is important that managers are trained on how to manage the requests and know the company procedures in terms of how and when to respond to requests in order to avoid breach claims or claims of discrimination.

Currently, there are 3 months to respond to a request but there are currently plans on going to make flexible working a right to request from day one of employment and if successful, responses will need to be completed within 2 months.

In order to avoid the risk of a breach or discrimination claim, it is important that managers consider the following points when reviewing flexible working requests:

  • Is the employees’ contractual place of work at the company premises?
  • What are the business’ needs? Do employees’ hybrid or home working arrangements meet those needs? Or are the business’ needs best met by mandating a full(er) return to workplace?
  • Is there a difference between different roles which can be clearly identified?
  • Do the business’ needs mean that hybrid or home working is leading to one of the eight statutory grounds for rejection of flexible working being met e.g. is there a detrimental impact on quality? What evidence is available to support this?
  • Are managers fully appraised of the business’ needs and know how to manage flexible working requests? Are managers acting consistently?
  • Is the business keeping up-to-date with implementation of the proposed reforms, and keeping managers appraised of developments?

If each of these have been considered and the request isn’t suitable for the business and you can provide reasons that apply to the 8 statutory rejection reasons for flexible working requests (see below), then you would be able to decline the request in writing explaining the reasons for doing so and giving the right to appeal.

The 8 statutory rejection reasons for flexible working

It is recognised that you may have an entirely legitimate business reason why you cannot accommodate an employee’s flexible working application but you can only reject a request based on one or more of the following business reasons:

  • The burden of additional costs.
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Detrimental impact on quality.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes.

You must have reasons why the above ground(s) apply. Such reasons can be challenged in an Employment Tribunal so this should be carefully considered.

If you need any templates such as policies or letters, or require support with this, please contact the  SafeWorkforce HR team for advice.