According to a recent BBC survey, almost all of UK’s 50 biggest employers have said they do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time. Some 43% of the firms said they would embrace a mix of home and office working, with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week. Four firms said they were keeping the idea of hybrid working – working from home some of the time, under review.

A YouGov survey in September 2020 revealed that prior to the pandemic 68% of employees never worked from home (in fact, only one in three did). However, 57% of those surveyed now said they would like to continue working from home.

So, whilst over half of workers may want to continue working from home, the majority would like a balance of both. ‘Hybrid’ will mean different things for different employers, depending on their size, location and nature of the business.

As the country eases restrictions it’s expected that all workplaces will re-open in July, for small businesses how easy will it be to adopt a hybrid working model? For most employers this means a shift in company culture and changes to company documentation.

We’ve put together this guide with everything you need to put in place if you’re considering moving to hybrid working.

What is hybrid working?

In basic terms, the hybrid working model covers both office time and working from home. It can also allow employees more freedom on when they work (moving away from the traditional / rigid 9-5 office hours). There is no legal definition for hybrid working and as such it refers to the ‘working arrangements’.

All employers may need to consider incorporating hybrid working if they want to retain and attract staff in the future. Current and potential employees may expect this as the new normal, so businesses will need to keep pace with the changing needs of the employment market.

Impact on staff

Over the past year, the hybrid working pattern has brought about benefits to a large number of staff, which includes improved wellbeing. Staff have spent less time commuting to and from an office which has meant more time spent with families, taking exercise or just being able to rest between shifts. In turn, this has increased productivity for many businesses and has had a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

However, there are some workers who have struggled working from home and need to return to the office environment and routine. Undoubtedly, everyone’s mental resilience has been tested and some workers may have experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation working from home over an extended period which needs to be considered. In addition, some workers have over-worked, feeling that they are ‘always on’ and unable to draw a line between home and work.

All of these elements need to be weighed up when devising a working plan for the future.

Will hybrid working suit your business?

Before creating a hybrid working strategy, consider what the benefits will be for your business and the practical implications:

  • Will hybrid working support or hinder your long-term business objectives?
  • Could it improve performance or bring staff engagement and wellbeing benefits?
  • What are your competitors doing? Could it help you to attract top candidates over competitors in future?
  • Could it change your company culture in a positive way (for example by moving to an ‘output’ led culture?)
  • Do you have a strong IT infrastructure that can support this way of working?
  • Can you induct and train staff online?
  • Are at least half of the workforce desk-based?
  • Do you have a culture of autonomy / trust currently or do your staff need supervising?
  • How many new systems will be needed to facilitate this and what is the cost?
  • Will this meet your wellbeing objectives?
  • How do staff feel about returning to the office or would they like a hybrid working model?
  • Office space capacity – can your offices accommodate the current workforce if some form of return?
  • Will you need to review your policies and procedures to protect your business?

Take into consideration how the business has operated over the past twelve months, and what has worked. Gather feedback from staff on how they would like to continue to work in the short, medium and long term, taking into consideration the business needs. Use our free staff survey template to understand how they feel about returning to work.

One size may not fit all, and depending on the nature and culture within your business you may have to look at which approach works best.

The legal position

Everyone has the right to request flexible working, but employers are not obliged to provide it (as long as they can demonstrate they are not discriminating against a particular protected group). If you are assessing requests on a case-by-case basis you will need to ensure you are not discriminating against staff (read our guide to protected characteristics).

The basics – your policies and procedures

Although a hybrid working arrangement may be agreed on an informal basis, it is a good idea to formalise these arrangements to avoid any potential for disputes. This means looking at existing policies and procedures to ensure they are aligned.

You should review:

  • Contracts of employment: what do they currently state about staff hours and location of work?
  • Do they contain details of when and how often staff are required to be in the office or attend meetings?
  • IT and security – do you have an up-to-date policy which ensures that all confidential data is protected whilst staff are working from home?
  • Insurance – are staff covered on their home insurance whilst working from home?
  • Homeworking risk assessment – have you conducted one? See below on staff working from home.
  • Do you have a Homeworking Policy? If not now is the time to introduce one.
  • If any staff have re-located and moved abroad you will need to check whether they are still covered by British employment rights and any associated tax requirements.
  • If staff are not from the UK, then you will also need to check their right to work and take tax advice.

Creating and implementing a hybrid working strategy

Once you have reviewed your existing policies and procedures you can create a hybrid working strategy. You will need to:

  • Define which roles are eligible for hybrid working.
  • Create a clear process for requesting hybrid working.
  • Develop a clear definition of how hybrid working may differ from other types of flexible working offered by the business.
  • Understand the roles and responsibilities of hybrid workers.
  • Consider creating a homeworking policy to protect staff working from home and set out expectations and responsibilities. If staff are working from home, HSE requires employers to conduct a homeworking risk assessment (see homeworking) or use our free template.

When implementing the strategy across the business our advice is to avoid over complicating things. Keep policies as simple as possible and offer support to managers who will need to implement the changes. It can be a good idea to create a FAQ document to sit alongside any hybrid working policy or update your employee handbook so that there is no confusion and that your messaging is consistent.

Managing and communicating with your hybrid team

Trust is a key factor when managing your hybrid team. This can be a huge psychological barrier for businesses who worry that their team may not be as productive if working from home and / or autonomously. The first step in successfully implementing a long-term hybrid working strategy is building a relationship of trust between managers and employees.

Actions:

  • Managers should offer guidance and support rather than simply directing team members. Allow them the opportunity to work autonomously.
  • Set specific times and days for catch ups so that even if their hours vary from week to week, there will be allocated times for checking in.
  • Encourage your team to use shared calendars so that everyone is aware of everyone else’s working hours and patterns and so that you can plan workload.
  • Agree on times when staff need to be available for meetings and to answer queries.
  • If staff are working as part of a team look at systems which can help you such as Monday or Trello for project management.
  • Recognise and reward staff achievements in the same way you would have with the team working from the office.

Read our guide to managing a remote team.

Keeping team morale high whilst working remotely

We know that a productive workforce is one with high morale. It’s going to be a challenge for managers to maintain the sense of ‘team’ if that team are in different locations, working different hours. However, there are ways to keep the company culture alive even if the team aren’t together. These include:

  • Scheduling regular video calls and check ins which become part of the working week to keep staff connected.
  • Communicate company news to help remind them of the bigger picture and how their role fits into this.
  • Recognise and reward staff as you would if you were still operating in the office.
  • Encourage them to take breaks and regulate their hours so they don’t lose the sense of work / life balance.
  • Consider a wellbeing policy / strategy which will help to protect mental health and avoid feelings of isolation. Train people managers in spotting the signs in colleagues who may be struggling.
  • Ask for feedback in order to understand how they are feeling and if things need changing / what you could do to support them.
  • Continue with appraisals and reviews – this shouldn’t stop because you can’t conduct them face to face.

See our tips for keeping your remote team motivated.

Managing health and safety for homeworkers

All employers have a duty to protect their employees whilst at work, whether that be at home or in a workplace.

All staff working from home should complete a risk assessment (access our free template here) to check their set-up. This will highlight any issues around equipment or IT and ensure that they are in an environment which is conducive to work. They should also now complete a DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment to flag up any issues. It is the company’s duty to supply all IT and support equipment that staff need, this may include wrist supports and screens to avoid RSI and other issues.

Managing wellbeing will also be an important factor for managers as the lines blur between home and work life. Set expectations with staff to ensure they know when the working day starts and ends and avoid the ‘always on’ scenario. Agree on a schedule of regular check ins and consider wellbeing in the overall hybrid working strategy. It’s important to ensure that staff don’t feel isolated from the rest of the team or the business. Read our guide to employee wellness.

Managing performance in your hybrid team

Inevitably it will be a challenge for employers to manage the performance of staff when they are working remotely or flexibly. There will be some important considerations for managers which include:

  • How will performance be measured? Will be it be results-based?
  • Will current systems and processes work in a remote environment?
  • Does the business have adequate systems in place? Now may be a good time to review these.
  • Does the business have a culture of presenteeism?
  • How will managers spend time with employees on a one-to-one basis?
  • How will performance be rewarded?
  • How will poor performance be measured and monitored?

Tackling poor performance

Tackling under-performance is a challenge for managers at the best of times, so how can this be managed if the employee is working remotely?

  • Set clear objectives and review them with the team member regularly
  • Investigate and understand any blockers to performance that an employee may be experiencing
  • Keep the lines of communication open
  • Have regular one to ones
  • Set clear expectations and ensure the employee understands the potential consequences of under performance
  • Increase office-based time whilst the employee is working on the improvement of their performance, to give them the best possible chance of success
  • Provide support and training to help the employee get back on track
  • Don’t let the employee drop of your radar, this can be easy to do when you are not working face to face every day.
  • If you end up running a formal process, do this face to face rather than virtually.

Tips for recruiting into a hybrid team

  • Make sure the job advert clearly states it is a hybrid role and where the office location is in the UK.
  • When screening CVs check for location and screen out if a commute to the office is not feasible.
  • During the interview process discuss with the candidate how they would see the hybrid role working and how often they would be happy to work in the office.
  • Sell the benefits of hybrid working and make sure the candidates know the company is all set up and fully functioning for a hybrid workforce.
  • Keep the recruitment process as efficient as possible, a lengthy process will switch off candidates and they will look elsewhere.
  • Be wary of candidates who don’t communicate well during the recruitment process, this may be an indicator of likely future performance.
  • When making the offer of employment try to on-board the employee as soon as possible and integrate them into the team early on.
  • Have a clear induction and training plan which should be a mix of office and remote based working.
  • Assign a buddy to show them the ropes and someone to contact with the smaller queries.
  • Keep in regular touch, it will take an employee longer to settle into a hybrid working environment than an office-based role.

You may also be interested in our Hybrid Working Pack.  Get in touch if you would like to know more.

Hybrid working pack