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The move to hybrid working has caught many HR professionals off-guard.
After spending the better part of two years mostly working from home, there’s a sense of quiet panic starting to descend in many HR departments. Senior management teams are beginning to request that departments prepare policies for getting bums back on seats in the office.
The vast majority of organisations recognise the huge popularity of remote work on the part of their employees and the increased productivity and better work life balance that it can bring. As a result, they’re not planning to throw the proverbial remote-work-baby out with the bathwater just yet.
Instead, organisations are looking to combine the flexibility of remote work with the structure of physical work. And they’re turning to hybrid working – a combination of working remotely and in an office – to do that.
In this article, we explore how you, as a HR professional, can craft an effective hybrid working policy that can streamline and formalise the move to hybrid working in your company.
Why Hybrid Working? And Why Does It Need a Policy?
Although there’s no legal requirement for employers to offer hybrid working, not doing so is likely to have a negative impact on your organisation in a number of ways.
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, it’s clear that a lot of us have fundamentally changed the way that we think about work and the role that it plays in our lives. The world of work has been rearranged around remote working, and this is likely to have long-term consequences for the way that the world works.
The pandemic has turned out to be a powerful catalyst for changing long-held ideas, putting into perspective the ways that office-based work (and everything that goes along with it) can often have a negative impact on our mental health.
For many people, remote work gave them a new-found sense of autonomy, dignity and balance, without compromising their productivity. Many employees are even leaving their current roles as we return to the office, in search of positions that offer remote-work, better flexibility and improved work/life balance (a phenomenon that’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’).
There’s another reason why hybrid working is likely to be the new normal going forward: COVID-19’s inherent unpredictability.
The virus is always evolving and a new variant could be just around the corner. If so, it’s likely that restrictions will be brought back in and companies will need to reduce the amount of time their staff spend together in offices. Cue organisational mayhem and lost productivity when businesses attempt to switch back to remote work at a moment’s notice.
Hybrid working represents a blend of the best elements of in-office working and remote working, improving everything from pandemic readiness through to employee engagement and mental health. But to implement it correctly, you’ll need a dedicated hybrid working policy.
What is a Hybrid Working Policy?
To put it simply, a hybrid working policy is a document that summarises how hybrid working works within your organisation.
It’s used in the same way that any other policy in your workplace is – to inform the ground rules of a particular process and how it should be implemented and managed.
It’s usually organised into sections, each covering a different aspect of hybrid working at your organisation.
The nature of remote work at the start of the pandemic meant that employers had to surrender some of their control over how employees did their jobs. Many managers found that they had to allow their employees more autonomy, and the freedom and initiative to manage themselves to some degree.
As a result, there’s likely to be disquiet if employers try to grab back too much rigid control.
A simple solution is to allow employees to keep the same level of freedom that they had when working from home previously, but to codify it in a policy document where you outline the expectations that come along with these new privileges.
This approach satisfies the needs of employees (who numerous studies have shown still want to work from home) with the needs of employers (who are painfully eyeing up the rental cost of offices that are currently empty), helping to defuse any tension about returning to the office.
What does a Hybrid Working Policy cover?
A hybrid working policy should cover:
- Working arrangements
- Health and safety
- Data protection
How to create a hybrid working policy
Here are the basic components that make up a hybrid working strategy and what each section in it should do.
This section is a brief summary of what your hybrid working policy is intended to do and who it covers. It essentially outlines the scope of the policy itself.
2. Working arrangements
The most important thing that a hybrid working policy needs to do is outline how exactly your organisation plans to implement hybrid working. In other words, working arrangements: what do you imagine hybrid working to look like in your organisation?
Your policy should set out this out clearly. The working arrangements section should cover the practical, logistical elements of hybrid working like:
- How many days per week/month employees will work from the office, and how many at home
- Which departments/teams will work from the office on which days
- Where employees will work within the office
- Any changes to shift patterns, as a consequence of the move to hybrid working
Both employees and employers need to be fully aware of the communication expectations that are placed on them when it comes to hybrid working. This will help to reduce the risk of those hiccups that can happen when you’re switching from workplace to workplace constantly and when teams are separated.
An effective hybrid working policy will clearly outline the expectations that you have of your employees when it comes to remote work.
It will provide answers to questions like:
- When working from home, what hours do you expect your employees to be contactable between?
- What platforms will your employees use to communicate whilst working from home?
- Where do you expect your employees to work whilst in the office (e.g. will there be fixed desks for employees, or will there be hot-desking?)
- How can employees expect to be managed whilst working from home?
- How will time worked be monitored?
- How will absences be reported?
Once you’ve dealt with some of the most important ‘how’ questions about hybrid working at your company, it’s time to examine the things your employees will need to put the plan into action.
By that, we mean the equipment employees will need to use to do their jobs properly, when working from home or the office.
This section of the hybrid working policy should provide detailed information about:
- The type and quantity of equipment that employees can expect to receive to help them carry out their roles
- How equipment should be stored when at home or in the office
- Processes for requesting repairs to equipment or new equipment
- A point of contact for who to go to when there is a problem with the equipment
- How to report missing, lost or stolen equipment
5. Health and safety
Whilst managing health and safety in the office can be demanding, it’s not too difficult once you have the right processes and tools in place. Trying to manage the health and safety of your employees whilst they’re working in a multitude of different remote settings with different risks can be particularly challenging.
As health and safety is such an important issue that covers a huge range of areas, it makes sense to create a separate policy that’s designed specifically to cover your H&S response to COVID in all areas of your business. By doing this, you’ll be able to cover the subject in more depth, in a more relevant place.
This section then should offer a basic summary of the processes that you’ll be following in terms of health and safety during hybrid working. It should discuss things like:
- The protocol for moving around the building (e.g. will masks be required?)
- What type of social distancing will be in place?
- What hygiene measures will be in place?
- How will the workplace be COVID-safe?
- Employee and employer responsibilities when it comes to remote work
- How to reduce the risk of injuries
- How to use good screen hygiene practices
6. Data protection
When you’re working between multiple locations, maintaining good data protection and security practices becomes even more important. Moving between different workplaces can present unique data protection challenges, particularly when you’re moving equipment with you at the same time, like laptops, documents and general papers.
It’s worth including a small section in your hybrid working policy that explores your company’s approach to data protection and what you expect your employees to be doing when it comes to it.
Hybrid Working Policy Template
Here’s a very simple hybrid working policy template that you can use as a framework to develop your own. Feel free to chop and change, making it more relevant to the context of your own organisation.
1. Purpose of the policy
- The purpose of this hybrid working policy is to outline how hybrid working arrangements will work for all employees at our organisation.
- It applies to everyone who is an employee at our organisation.
2. Working arrangements
- Employees will work [x] days a week in the office and [x] days a week remotely, between the hours of [x] and [x].
- The days that employees are working in the office will be chosen by [x].
- Employees will work at their preassigned desk and endeavor to maintain a two-metre distance from other employees at all times.
- Employees will be available to be contacted during the working hours of [x] to [x].
- Employees will maintain regular contact with their line managers and wider team through digital communication, video calls and telephone calls.
- Employees will ensure that they have a reliable internet connection in their home for the purposes of work.
- Employees will maintain a good work-life balance and not work past their designated shift end.
- If ill, employees are expected to follow the usual sickness and absence procedures, as outlined in [insert name of policy here].
- All employees will be issued with: [list equipment here].
- It is the responsibility of all employees to ensure that their work equipment is kept in safe, working order and that it is well-maintained.
- If there are issues with your equipment, please contact [Equipment contact].
- If any equipment is lost or stolen, employees should contact [Equipment contact] .
5. Health and Safety
- When working in the office, employees will ensure that they wear a mask when away from their desk and moving around the wider building.
- Before coming into the office, employees will take a COVID-19 lateral flow test. If they test positive for the virus, they will not be permitted to come into the office.
- Hand sanitizer and wipes will be provided. Please endeavor to use these regularly when touching any equipment that is shared between people.
- A one-way system will be in place in order to minimise contact.
- We are all responsible for our safety. When working from home, please ensure that your working environment is set up correctly and safely.
- Take regular screen breaks and practice good screen hygiene procedures.
Remember that a policy isn’t an immovable set of rules – it’s meant to be a working document that is constantly evolving and being regularly tweaked to improve its relevancy. Hopefully we’ve given you some useful ideas for crafting your own hybrid working policy!
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