It can be, says Head of Employment Tania Goodman, but employers may need to handle a couple of ‘hot potatoes’ to be certain.
A recent study by Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy in the US found that remote work increased significantly during the pandemic, with approximately 10% of workers fully remote, primarily in tech-related roles. However, their productivity was somewhat lower than the average. A larger group, around 30%, comprised the hybrid workforce, which poses challenges for employers in finding the right balance between remote and in-office work. These workers have varying preferences, and many have grown accustomed to the flexibility they had during the pandemic. Forcing them back to full-time office work is unlikely to be well-received, and some might leave for jobs that better suit their lifestyle.
One way of measuring productivity is by monitoring employee activity during working hours in terms of their online presence, the number of emails sent and/or hours recorded if that is part of their role. Employers can lawfully monitor office and home-based working if it’s done for legitimate reasons and with the employees’ consent. This is subject to certain limited exceptions such as suspected criminal activity. The monitoring should be clearly articulated in a written policy and adhere to the six principles set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, including explaining the purpose of the monitoring and the data being accurate, up to date, secure, fair, transparent and not excessive.
Another hot potato for employers is complying with their legal duties associated with home working. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 applies equally to working from home, and don’t forget that the GDPR does not distinguish between rooms or places where data is being processed and requires appropriate security to be implemented. Furthermore, employees working remotely may connect to the internet using personal or even public Wi-Fi.
Hybrid working offers benefits to employees, such as flexibility, improved work-life balance, reduced commuting, and better well-being. However, it can lead to challenges for employers, including empty offices, reduced engagement, weakened corporate culture, and potential difficulties for new and younger staff members seeking opportunities for learning and socializing.
It looks like hybrid working is here to stay so striking the right balance to maintain a harmonious workforce is really important. Best to remember the wise words of John Lydgate: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
This article was first published on 19 September 2023 by People Management.