Hybrid Working – how will contracts change?

‘What is it we need to change in our employment contracts and policies to reflect the new normal’

……is a question I’ve been frequently asked when recently presenting to groups of managers and directors about maximising productivity and engagement in a hybrid working environment.

I’ve not been a great enthusiast for rushing into contractual changes just because everyone’s predicting that a third of employees will quit if they can’t continue flexible working or that over a million workers at the top 50 employers will not be bought back to the office.

Balancing all this enthusiasm, I have previously commented that home working is not for every job, or for every person, and that under the pressure of Covid we have made it work but it might not be sustainable in the long term.

Add onto this the fact that many jobs cannot be done from home and its a peculiarly middle-class assumption that we all have homes that are suitable to work from.

All this plus the fact that 2.8 million homes do not have internet access, and 11.7 million people lack the necessary digital skills to work from home (Beyond Digital: Planning for a Hybrid World – House of Lords COVID-19 Committee), it’s easy to see that this is not going to work for a sizeable portion of the working population.

Nonetheless, employers are naturally keen to ensure that more permanent arrangements are properly established and that the interests of both the employer and the employee are recognised and codified.  SMEs will be able to take a more informal approach than larger organisations who will need policies to ensure consistency of application across the organisation.

What are you likely to need in terms of contracts and policies if you are keen to facilitate home/hybrid working in some form.

Firstly, assuming you are an enthusiast for home/agile/hybrid (whatever) working, the possible contractual changes you’ll want to consider are :-

  • Arrangements for trial periods, or provisions that allow home working after a successful probationary period for new colleagues.
  • Provisions for ending a home working arrangement if it is not working or business needs change.
  • A new definition of the ‘place of work’ which you have a statutory duty to define.
  • Reserving the right to require home working.
  • Defining flexibility to move home – you may want to insist that home remains within a certain distance from the Company location.
  • Clarity about hours of work. Is it the same as the past, is there some flexibility, defining any core times for availability etc.
  • Establishing responsibility to take breaks and to record hours so that there is no breach of the Working Time Directive.
  • Access to the home to recover equipment or undertake health and safety checks.
  • Requirements to attend the workplace as required from time to time, and the rules with regard to travel expenditure etc. Travel to a workplace is generally a taxable benefit if paid for by the employer, so it is probably best to make it clear that where this happens it is at the employee’s expense.
  • Equipment and insurance issues.
  • Data protection and confidentiality provisions.

Secondly, what about policy changes.  Many larger organisations have already had ‘Homeworking’ policies, and we will probably see these renamed ‘Hybrid Working’ polices.  One of the advantages of a policy is that it enables the employer to keep the content in the contract to a minimum, and have a more flexible policy in a Staff Handbook.

A policy is not mandatory, but if you are going to have one it will help you set more of a tone and define expectations which are not always possible in a contract.

Some of the content will be an expansion of the items above, other issues might include:-

  • Understanding the concept.
  • Defining the characteristics of roles that are suitable for hybrid working.
  • Outlining the personal qualities needed for successful home working.
  • The discretionary nature of any arrangements, but take care, they can’t always be changed back easily, no matter what you say in a contract or policy.
  • Suitable work area and equipment.
  • Personal commitments that may interfere with effectiveness.
  • Working from abroad.
  • How will performance be measured.
  • Health and safety responsibilities – you probably need to address lighting, display screen equipment (see this HSE Checklist), electrical testing, reporting of accidents, and the supply of a first aid kit.
  • Tax, expenses issues.
  • Rules about meeting at the employee’s home.
  • Insurance, lease or mortgage issues.
  • Lifestyle issues, mental wellbeing etc.
  • Relationship between hybrid working and permanent flexible working arrangements

Finally, don’t forget those whose role prevents home working – we are in danger of creating a two-tier workforce.

They might not be able to work from home, but are there other areas of flexibility that could be introduced – the evidence suggests that other forms of flexibility have decreased during the pandemic.  Flexitime, condensed hours, job sharing, term time working, annualised hours are some that can be applied to many roles.

 

Ken Allison | 29 June 2021 | Paradigm Partners | www.paradigmpartners.co.uk

Ken is an engaging trainer and speaker who manages to make his topics, highly interactive, challenging, entertaining, and above all, relevant to the 21st Century executive. Ken uses his understanding of managing businesses to show managers what they ‘can do’ rather than what they ‘cannot do’.

Ken specialises in taking the strain out of employment law related people issues through training workshops for managers, and his firm’s ‘ExecutiveHR’ service, providing telephone based support services to businesses throughout the UK.