Five things we have learned about hybrid working

Mills & Reeve has recently hosted a webinar series on COVID and the future of work, to explore how it will change the way we work, even after the pandemic has receded. My colleagues and our other contributors have given participants a lot to think about.

Its well worth viewing the recordings (available here) but here’s a taster of some of the key themes that emerged.


At the risk of stating the obvious, we all need to be flexible. Clearly employers and HR departments need to plan ahead, but they also need to be flexible enough to adjust at short notice to the inevitable changes in regulation and guidance as the virus and the steps taken to combat it both continue to evolve.

While most employers probably do not need any encouraging in this direction, it is worth following Government plans to amend the right to request flexible working. We don’t have any firm details at the moment, but one change may involve removing the current six month qualifying period before the right can be exercised.

Engagement with the workforce

The second lesson I took from the webinar series – in many different contexts – is that staff engagement is more important than ever before. Staff have had to adapt to a great deal of change while their resilience has been impacted like never before with factors such as: performing front line roles during a pandemic, the psychological isolation of remote working, or the additional pressures of supporting school age children at home.

As restrictions are relaxed, it is essential to engage with the needs of the workforce before attempting to balance these with any conflicting business objectives. Certainly there is an opportunity to build back better: while the relatively care-free pre-COVID days are bound to evoke feelings of nostalgia, many may not wish to return to exactly the same working environment. That means that staff input into what would work best for them is an essential starting point.

Understanding the limits of remote working

Despite the very rapid advances in technology – and our ability to use it – over the past year, there are still some things that can’t be done as well remotely. When re-imagining the workplace for the post-COVID era it is import to understand what these elements are.

One of our speakers referred to a study by McKinsey which analyses the effectiveness of different tasks when these are done remotely when compared with in person, across a number of different countries. So for example they found that updating knowledge and learning is typically about 80% effective remotely. This dropped to about 30% for establishing workplace relationships, and even lower for training and mentoring. There have also been useful studies of the different biases that emerge when conducting meetings online rather than in person, including this dictionary of behavioural biases from the LSE.

It is clear from these new studies, as well as past experience, that designing an effective hybrid working policy involves much more than working out the optimum percentage of home working for any given role. It is also necessary to consider how the component tasks are managed, to ensure they are done in the most effective manner.

Working from abroad

In our experience, one unforeseen impact of the pandemic is that it has led to an increase in the numbers of staff working remotely from abroad for UK employers, often on an ad-hoc basis.

These arrangements, if not properly regularised, can lead to a number of risks for both employer and employee – for example the obligation to pay tax and social security contributions in the host country and need to obtain a work permit or visa.

Reviewing working arrangements as the lockdown eases creates an opportunity to establish a clear policy on whether working remotely is permissible, and if so in what circumstances. Given that each country has different immigration and tax rules, professional advice will be required in the host country before authorising any such arrangements.

For more information about staff working remotely from Europe, please see here

Equalities considerations

There is a complex relationship between increased flexibility and equality and diversity issues. To take one example, it has been an advantage for many parents to be able to work flexible hours from home rather than fixed hours at their employer’s workplace. Leaving the choice of whether to continue to work from home entirely up to employees risks “baking in” existing gender based inequalities around responsibilities for childcare. 

Other risks arise from the differences in the dynamics as between remote and in person communication. Staff working remotely can struggle to make their views heard, and the absence of an on-site presence may translate into reduced access to informal learning and development opportunities, or being overlooked for promotion. If not properly addressed, one of the potential disadvantages of working remotely could be to amplify existing workplace inequalities, for example in relation to race or disability.

To connect with Sara on LinkedIn please visit her profile here. If you would be interested in receiving further updates from Mills & Reeve you can register for these on our sign up page

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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