Covid-19, with its enforced move to remote working for many, has inevitably resulted in employers considering what their post-pandemic working model might look like. A return to what was in place in March 2020; a fully remote model; or a hybrid of home and office working?

A fully remote work model…

One option is to make the current homeworking arrangements permanent, so that employees work from home full time except when attendance at the office is required for things such as client meetings, training, and team building exercises (as reported here, for example).

…… or a hybrid model?

However, recent reports indicate that few employers plan to have a 100% remote workforce for the long term, with the majority in favour of a move towards a blended or hybrid working model which would allow working time to be split between the office and home (see for example here and here).

The practical implications of moving to a remote or hybrid working model

If you are considering a remote working model, whether full-time or part-time, here are some of the issues to consider:

Contractual terms

  • Requirement to attend the workplace: If opting for a hybrid model, think about whether attendance in the office will be required for a set number of days (and on particular days); or whether the arrangement is going to be flexible enough to allow employees to decide when to come in. Even if employees are working remotely full-time the contract could include a requirement to attend the workplace as and when required.
  • Salary and benefits: One outcome of the pandemic is that employees have will far more flexibility as to where they work so that, for example, an employee who is usually London-based might find that they are able to move outside of the city and work from a location where the cost of living is significantly lower. If you are moving away from location-based salaries and cost-of living allowances, are salaries going to be linked to the value of the work? Setting the right salary plan will be key to attracting and retaining employees, and to some extent this will be influenced by how other employers approach the question. Interestingly 55% of workers surveyed in this report said they were willing to take a pay cut in order to continue working from home long term.
  • Homeworking arrangements: Are the arrangements you had in place while homeworking was temporary going to continue to apply? Issues to consider include insurance cover; who will provide and pay for homeworking equipment (although this may have already been provided); how homeworkers will be effectively supervised and appraised; and who will meet the ongoing costs of working from home, such as heating, lighting, electricity, internet charges and printing. 
  • Flexible working options: In addition to remote/hybrid working, you may want to offer a broad range of flexible working options such as compressed hours, and flexible start and finish times.

Policies & training

  • Carry out a policy review, for example in relation to homeworking; flexible working; health and safety; IT security; data protection; business travel; and expenses.
  • Decide how to approach disciplinary, grievance, performance, absence and consultation meetings. As currently drafted, your policies are likely to anticipate face-to-face meetings: what will the expectation be going forward?
  • Think about how you're going to provide managers with guidance/training on working under the new model.

Data protection & confidentiality

Communicate your homeworking standards clearly, including on IT security, maintaining confidentiality when working in a shared space (particularly during telephone or video calls) and appropriate storage and destruction of documents if these are printed. If you have not already done so, you may need to provide additional IT equipment and introduce specific policies on data security and confidentiality when homeworking.

Health & safety

  • As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers as for any other workers.
  • When homeworking becomes 'long-term' (which will be the case if they agree to work from home permanently – and, depending on how long homeworking has lasted, it may already be considered 'long-term'), you should carry out an individual display screen equipment workstation assessment to identify risks, and then control these risks (for example, by providing appropriate equipment). If you need to carry out the workstation assessment remotely, you could ask employees to send a photo or short video of their workstation. You should also provide information, instruction and training on the risks associated with using DSE equipment, including guidance on how to set up a workstation correctly.
  • Advise employees that whilst working from home it is their responsibility to regulate their working time and take the breaks to which they are entitled.

Engagement & inclusion

There is much discussion to be had around the challenges of replicating normal office interactions and sustaining workforce engagement and inclusion when working remotely. Communication will be key.

  • Ensure that all team members are clear on how to work together remotely and how and when to interact and keep others updated.
  • Make sure there is a fair allocation of work and opportunities.
  • Employees will need to be supported through good people management. Managers may benefit from guidance/training on issues such as effective communication, supervision and delegation; monitoring performance; scheduling and holding online team meetings; and remote appraisals.

Employee wellbeing

Homeworking without direct supervision can be daunting; it can also increase the risks of work-related stress and other mental health issues such as anxiety. In addition, homeworkers may be more prone to loneliness and may feel isolated from their colleagues, which can affect stress levels and mental health. To help reduce these risks you could for example:

  • Put procedures in place so you can keep in direct contact with employees working from home and recognise signs of stress as early as possible;
  • Have regular team meetings; set up contact between employees and line managers; build virtual and physical 'social' spaces; and
  • Clarify how employees can get assistance and guidance if they need it.

Working from abroad

Spotify is one of the employers to have announced that going forward it is going to allow all its employees to choose where to work, both in terms of being in the office or at home; and their geographic location. Read our earlier blog to find out about the potential employment, immigration and tax implications of working remotely from abroad.

How do we implement remote or hybrid working?

Some businesses may be planning to give employees the option of where to work from in the long-term. However if this is not the case, and a new working model is being imposed on the workforce, there will need to be an assessment as to the best way of doing that. 

Do we need to amend employment contracts?

You could opt to go down the route of formally changing existing employees' terms and conditions. If so, you will need to follow an appropriate process.  

In some circumstances you will be able to rely on a 'mobility clause' (which states that you can change the place of work). However, for changes not authorised by the contract, you should consult on the proposals; seek employees' agreement either directly or via collective bargaining; and identify how to approach any decliners (you could impose the change unilaterally or dismiss and re-engage on new terms although both options carry risks). 

Collective consultation obligations could be triggered if there's a proposal to dismiss and re-engage at least 20 employees at one establishment within 90 days. There is also a discrimination risk if the reason for not consenting is a protected characteristic such as sex or disability. 

Is there an alternative to formal contractual change?

Alternatively, rather than changing all individual contracts you could adopt a remote / hybrid working model in your organisation on a 'discretionary', 'non-contractual' basis. This approach is likely to involve introducing a home & hybrid working policy, which sets your expectations around the level of homeworking and then agreeing informal arrangements with individual employees. 

Note, however, that if an employee doesn’t agree to informal changes you may find that you need to consider following a process to change their terms and conditions. Also, imposing a change to 'informal' arrangements in future could risk breaching trust and confidence or (for example, in cases where childcare has been arranged on the basis of certain arrangements) discrimination.

    More information

    This is a high-level summary of some issues to think about if contemplating moving to a remote or hybrid working model - please get in touch with a member of the employment and immigration team for more information.

    Workbox by Brodies has detailed guidance on home and hybrid working and changing terms and conditions including a template home and hybrid working contract and policy: if you are not currently a user and would like a free trial or demo, please get in touch.


    Julie Keir

    Practice Development Lawyer