Elaine Huttley: What is the impact of hybrid working on employees?

As a result of the global pandemic, organisations are having a major re-think about how they want their workplaces to function long-term. Many are considering introducing hybrid working models, which give staff the option of combining working from home with going into the office. There are clear business benefits to be gained from a hybrid model, but what about the employee perspective?

Most employees will see hybrid working as a positive step, as it allows greater flexibility and autonomy for employees. Many will enjoy a more positive and rewarding work-life balance. Those with childcare or other care responsibilities will be better able to juggle their everyday challenges, and a reduction in commuting should in theory afford employees additional time.

Despite the potential benefits though, hybrid working will not be without its challenges and will require cultural change. While ideally this model will allow a better work-life balance, it may be difficult for employees to disconnect. As such, employee wellbeing is an emerging key issue. Staff should be encouraged to take regular rest breaks, including periods where devices are switched off wherever possible. This will require clear communication from employers with managers leading by example, however employees also need to be proactive in managing their own wellbeing.

Not all roles will be suitable for a hybrid working model. Without careful management and communication, a two-tier system may emerge, with some roles being eligible for hybrid working and some not. This should be carefully considered before a hybrid model is rolled out.

Employers will need to ensure that employees are not adversely affected as a result of unintended consequences. Hybrid working could indirectly discriminate against some employee groups. For example, young people could be more likely to rent, which may mean they have less space for a safe work set up. If such employees are required to work from home in these circumstances, rather than it being an option, this could lead to indirect discrimination claims unless employers can objectively justify this requirement.

Employers should therefore consider what they can do to minimise impact when creating hybrid working policies and consider any further support they can offer to impacted individuals or groups.

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Over the coming months and in a rapidly changing world, it will be interesting to see how hybrid working plays out in the workplace.

Elaine Huttley is an employment law partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell