Hybrid Working Policy: Key Considerations for EmployersPosted in : LK Shields on Employment Law on 26 January 2022
With the Irish government’s announcement that a return to physical attendance in workplaces can commence on a phased basis appropriate to each sector from 24 January 2022, many employers in Ireland will be welcoming back cohorts of staff who have worked remotely for the vast majority of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Relatively recent experience from September / October 2021 - when the Irish government advised that workplaces could re-open at that time on a phased and cautious basis for specific business requirements - would suggest that hybrid working will be the favoured option for employees. Indeed, hybrid working may well be the medium to long-term working model adopted by many employers and, with that in mind, now might be an opportune time for those employers to be thinking about their future working model beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is hybrid working?
As there is currently no legal definition of ‘hybrid working’ in Ireland (but it is generally understood to mean an agreed working arrangement involving a blend of working at home and in the office, or work from an alternate location such as a hub), hybrid working will inevitably have different meanings in different companies and industries. It may also have a different meaning for different teams / departments within the same organisation.
A hybrid working policy
The implementation of a robust hybrid working policy will be a key step for any organisation intending to embrace hybrid working on a permanent basis over the long-term. Among other things, a hybrid working policy should address or include the following:
- Which employees are eligible for hybrid working? All employees or only particular roles that are deemed suitable for this form of working?
- A trial period for the policy, and for the hybrid working arrangement on an individual level, after which the policy or arrangement should be reviewed.
- Is hybrid working mandatory or optional? If it is optional, the policy should explain how a request for hybrid working can be made and the timeline(s) within which the company will respond.
- How many days per week are employees expected to work in the office, as compared to the number of days that they can work remotely? A significant degree of flexibility should be included in order for the company to accommodate for individual circumstances, the nature of the role, operational needs or available space at the office.
- Are there any requirements for attendance in the office such as booking a desk? If the employer no longer has sufficient physical space for the entire workforce, attendance may need to be coordinated and staggered.
- Are there any circumstances in which employees will be required to attend the office e.g., for in-person training, disciplinary matters, meetings with line managers and/or performance appraisals? If so, these should be outlined in the policy.
- Are there any restrictions on where an employee can work remotely? An employer may wish to impose limits on working in public places due to data protection concerns.
- Will employees be permitted to work from other locations, including overseas? If so, the policy should require employees to disclose to the employer the details of any new work location, as there may be tax, immigration and regulatory implications if working from a different jurisdiction.
- Is there any specific guidance for employees while working remotely e.g., guidance on how performance will be measured and monitored? If so, this should be outlined in the policy.
- On a more general note, the policy should also contain guidance on core working hours, the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, any data protection and confidentiality obligations and health and safety requirements while working remotely.
In devising a hybrid working policy, consideration should be given by employers to the unique needs of the roles, the teams and/or departments within an organisation. There will be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to hybrid working, particularly in the absence of any specific legislative framework on hybrid working. On a related note, employers should be mindful that new legislation granting employees a statutory right to request remote working is expected to be introduced by the Irish government this year. For employers who were not considering adopting hybrid working, once this legislation is introduced, it is expected that it will place a legal obligation on employers to consider and respond to requests for remote working. A process for dealing with such requests will need to be put in place by employers in due course and this process may form part of a hybrid working policy or a standalone remote working policy.
Managing hybrid working
Managers of hybrid workers will need extensive support and appropriate training on the implementation of a permanent hybrid working model. Hybrid working places new demands on managers and, although managers may have developed new skills in terms of managing a remote workforce during the pandemic, hybrid working on a permanent basis will bring its own unique challenges that are different from both predominantly remote and predominantly office-based working.
It is not anticipated that the introduction of a hybrid working model or policy will be met with much resistance within an organisation, but some issues may arise with the actual implementation. Clear communication, along with meaningful consultation and engagement with employees, from an early stage will be crucial in shaping the terms of the policy itself and building a consensus around what will work best for your organisation.
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.