According to data from the Office of National Statistics, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic only around 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home. The pandemic, and government mandates for people to stay at home, increased this significantly. However, according to CIPD research, before the pandemic, 65% of employers either did not offer regular working from home at all or offered it to 10% or less of their workforce. That 65% is expected to fall dramatically to 37%. 

While some employees want to work from home all the time after the pandemic, most would prefer a balance where they are in the office for some of the week and at home for the remainder. This has led to the use of the term: hybrid working. Remote working experts have estimated that hybrid working arrangements could result in around 25% of working days transferring to remote work. This represents a significant shift in ways of working which people professionals will need to prepare for.

Many organisations are now experimenting with hybrid working arrangements in order to meet this employee demand. Organisations are also considering what will need to be in place in order for these new ways of working to be effective.

For most organisations, hybrid working will require a significant culture shift and establishing new ways of working and associated policies and practices. Although many people worked from home during the pandemic and developed relevant skills, in some ways hybrid will make greater demands of managers and organisations than the urgent shift to total remote working.

So, how, why and what should organisations think about when implementing a hybrid approach?

Why hybrid?

The significant interest in more flexible forms of working, and hybrid working in particular, have created new employee expectations and desires. Organisations who do not support flexible forms of working may risk increased employee turnover, reduced employee engagement and limitations on the ability to attract talent in the future. Repeated surveys have found that employees are prepared to leave for greater flexible working opportunities if they are unable to access them in their current role. 

Hybrid working also provides other opportunities for organisations in terms of reducing estate and facilities costs, enabling employee wellbeing, and supporting inclusion and diversity.

Benefits of hybrid

Employees identified many benefits from working from home during the global pandemic, for both them and their organisation. These benefits include a better work–life balance, greater ability to focus with fewer distractions, more time for family and friends, saved commuting time and costs, IT upskilling and higher levels of motivation.

Other benefits of flexible working include savings on office space, higher levels of employee job satisfaction and reduced absence rates.

The full benefits of hybrid working as a specific form of flexible working are yet to be fully researched but we can expect that it will, when properly implemented and supported, lead to benefits for both employees and organisations alike. Initial research has found that hybrid working arrangements can offer employees the ‘best of both worlds’ – greater work life balance whilst still maintaining social connection and bonds with colleagues.

Planning for a hybrid future

There is no single way to implement hybrid working, and its exact form is likely to vary from organisation to organisation. In this section we will explore some of the areas to consider when considering potential approaches towards a more hybrid future.

Key steps for successful hybrid working implementation should include:

  • Agreeing an overall strategic position on hybrid (and broader flexible) working for the organisation and development of a policy and supporting guidance reflecting the strategy. 
  • Defining hybrid working with regard to the specific organisational context. This might include several different forms of hybrid working even within one organisation, depending on role requirements. 
  • Provision of training and ongoing development activity for people managers to support successful hybrid management and leadership. 
  • Development of communication and engagement activity to share plans, outcomes and feedback relating to hybrid working, including how  success of new ways of working will be assessed. 
  • Planning for and responding to the organisational implications of hybrid working on matters such as technology, employee wellbeing, inclusion and facilities. 
  • Supporting effective team building and cohesion in hybrid teams. More information on this can be found in the CIPD Developing effective virtual teams report. 
Some of these areas will now be considered in more detail.

Policy and procedure

Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. Therefore, employers may consider either adapting or updating an existing flexible working policy to include hybrid working as a specific category or introducing a specific hybrid working policy. What is appropriate for each business will depend on their specific context. Whichever decision is made, as hybrid working is a relatively new concept, any new or adapted policy should be issued with supporting guidance and information to enable effective implementation.

When developing policies and procedures organisations should consider the following:

  • Setting out who (or which role types) is eligible for hybrid working.
  • Explaining how to request hybrid working – or clearly state that is is available to everyone.
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for hybrid workers and people managers. 
  • How hybrid working intersects with other forms of flexible working. 
  • Reviewing other related policies including, for example, expenses, IT usage, homeworking and data protection. 
Flexible working legislation sets out how individuals can apply for flexible working, and how to consider requests on an individual basis. However, hybrid working may also need to be considered at a team level. Demand for hybrid working is expected to be high and it may not be procedurally effective to consider multiple requests at the same time – instead managers may need help to consider requests holistically. 
 
This is also an opportunity to review wider flexible working policies and procedures to determine if they are fit for purpose in other areas. Ideally, organisations will offer a broad range of flexible working options in addition to hybrid working, promoting the different forms of flexibility and how to access them. 

The CIPD is calling on organisations and the UK Government to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right – read more about this campaign and pledge your support.

Legal implications of hybrid working

Organisations will need to give careful consideration to the contractual implications of hybrid working. Where employees make a formal request for hybrid working through a flexible working policy (and the request is accepted) this will amount to a formal change to terms and conditions of employment. Hybrid working (and indeed other forms of flexible working) can also be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change. You should make sure that employees and managers understand the differences and the implications of both.

Employment contracts should also state a contractual location. This does not necessarily change as a result of hybrid working, but employees who work permanently from home normally have their home address as their workplace.

Employees should be advised to discuss any implications of homeworking with their landlord or mortgage provider and house insurer. There may also be tax implications if an employee wishes to work some of their remote time outside of the UK. More information is available in the top tips on legal considerations of homeworking.

Organisations should take legal advice where appropriate on their specific implications of hybrid working.

Communication

Hybrid working is based on effective communication. It is critical to success but also a potentially high-risk area. When communication is not well managed it can result in poor information flow, knowledge gaps, barriers to effective team working and exclusion of team members who are not in the office. Communication within hybrid teams needs to be more intentional as casual or ad-hoc conversations may be reduced. Effective communication needs to be seen as the responsibility of everyone in the team.

Exactly how a hybrid team needs to communicate will vary depending on its size, the nature of the roles in the team and the specific type of hybrid working being undertaken.

Consider some of the following recommendations for effective hybrid team communication:

  • Meetings should be held online by default if some employees are joining remotely, unless high quality facilitation can be ensured. This will help to ensure that each attendee has a consistent experience of the meeting. When co-located employees have a face to face meeting but colleagues attend remotely this can lead to ‘presence disparity’, where people experience the meeting differently and communication can be disrupted. The CIPD have tips on hybrid meetings. 
  • Teams should be encouraged and supported to establish their own principles for communication. This may include how often to meet physically, what technology to use for meetings and asynchronous work and how to ensure that communication is inclusive of everyone. 
  • Making use of asynchronous tools. During the pandemic many employees have reported feeling fatigued by long online meetings. When teams are working in a hybrid way, communication can be enhanced by asynchronous tools such as Slack or chat functions in platforms such as Microsoft Teams. This allows people to have more schedule flexibility, as well as location flexibility, and reduces online meeting time. 
  • Building in regular social and human connection opportunities to support employee engagement and team building.

Manager training and development

Hybrid working will make new demands of people managers. Although managers may have developed new skills in terms of managing a remote workforce, hybrid working brings unique challenges that are different from both predominantly remote and predominantly office-based working.

Organisations will need to put learning and development in place to ensure effective people management. This should include two separate but related elements:

  • Practical management of hybrid working arrangements. This might include managing requests for hybrid working at an individual and team level, implementation of new ways of working, co-ordinating hybrid schedules and managing hybrid meetings.
  • Developing the skills to ensure effective communication, performance management, team and relationship building and collaboration in hybrid teams.

Managers will also need information and guidance on ensuring inclusion and diversity, effective induction and employee engagement with a distributed team.

Technology skills may also need further development – see the next section for more information.

Technology and equipment

Technology plays a critical role in hybrid working. Employees need to be able to work seamlessly between workplace and home, and there needs to be ease of connectivity between people in the office and those working remotely.

Organisations may wish to consider the following:

  • Supporting employees in fully using available technology, as well as using them in a way that supports health and wellbeing (including meaningfully disconnecting from work).  
  • Reviewing systems and equipment available in offices and provided by individuals in order to assess whether it will appropriately support hybrid forms of working. 
  • Providing a mix of recommended tools (with implementation support) to enable hybrid meetings and collaboration. 
  • Putting in place appropriate security measures to ensure system and data integrity when employees are working away from the workplace.

In addition to technology, considering what other equipment will support effective and healthy remote working, including the provision of office furniture or mobile devices.

Wellbeing

Hybrid working may support improved wellbeing through reducing commuting time, providing employees with more autonomy around their schedules and extra time for health and wellbeing activities. Hybrid working may however bring with it specific challenges around work-life balance and managing the boundaries between work and home. Some people find that remote and flexible working supports their wellbeing, but others find that it can be a detractor.  

Consider the following to maximise the potential of hybrid work for wellbeing:

  • Providing training and support to employees on managing work-life balance whilst working in a hybrid way / working from home.
  • Offering training on digital wellbeing and having healthy habits in relation to technology use, including helping employees to mindfully disconnect. 
  • Helping managers to understand the potential wellbeing implications of hybrid working and equipping them to have appropriate wellbeing conversations.
  • Ongoing mental health support and information for all employees, taking into account the potential long term impact of the pandemic on mental health.
  • Ensuring managers are aware of potential signs and symptoms of poor wellbeing or mental health, as these may be weaker whilst employees are working in a remote or hybrid way.

Performance management

When employees are working remotely or more flexibly, their performance may be harder to observe. 

Instead of assessing employees via time spent in the office (or in virtual meetings), managers will need to adjust to assessing performance through outcomes, contribution and value. Managers will not be able to monitor every aspect of an employee’s work when they are working remotely, nor should this normally be necessary.

Consider some of the following:

  • How equipped are people managers to manage performance based upon outcomes, objectives and results?
  • Are current performance management systems and processes fit for purpose in a remote environment?
  • Does current organisational culture reward or encourage presenteeism, and if so, how can this be addressed?
  • Ensuring managers have 1-2-1 time with team members on a regular basis to discuss performance and update objectives.
  • Having mechanisms to identify and reward great performance, as well as address poor performance with hybrid workers. These systems are likely to already been in place but may need to be adapted for a changing context or reminders about good practice issued.

Inclusion and fairness

Hybrid and flexible working has the potential to support inclusion and fairness through opening up the labour market to employees who cannot work in a traditional office based role.  If poorly implemented however it could also worsen existing inequalities and create new ‘in and out’ groups. In a hybrid environment, organisations must ensure ongoing access to development and career conversations for all employees and make sure there is a fair allocation of work, opportunities and voice.

Consider some of the following:

  • Identifying areas where inequalities may have developed during the pandemic and setting out plans to address these to ensure they not have a long-term detrimental impact on individuals or the organisation. 
  • Identifying where any inclusion risks may arise if employees move to hybrid working and how these can be mitigated. 
  • Where employees are unable to work in a hybrid way because of the work that they undertake, raising awareness of other forms of flexible working that may be suitable for them.
  • Taking steps to ensure equality of experience between employees in the office and employees at home. 
  • Being aware of potential conflict and taking steps to ensure managers are prepared to properly manage any conflict situations.

Employee lifecycle

Increased flexible working, and hybrid working in particular, affects all aspects of the employee lifecycle.

People professionals should review each stage of the employee lifecycle within their organisations in order to identify where amendments need to be made in order to enable effective hybrid working. 

Consider:

  • Including the availability of hybrid working in recruitment activities to support talent acquisition, and equipping managers to have conversations about the organisation’s approach to hybrid work during recruitment.
  • Induction processes for hybrid workers, including assimilating company culture and values and building a relationship with other hybrid team members. 
  • Provision of learning and development activities in hybrid workplaces and supporting long term career development. 
  • Amendments to performance management systems or processes. 
  • Reward and recognition strategies, with particular reference to ensuring that reward and recognition is fair and not biased towards those spending more time in the office.
  • The inclusion and diversity aspects of hybrid working and in particular considering how hybrid working might both support inclusion initiatives but also the risks that some may be excluded through remote working.

Further resources

DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where appropriate.

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