Hybrid working trial periods: A guide for HR

It is good practice for employers to run a trial period before committing to the hybrid working model. A trial period gives them the chance to identify any issues and assess whether individual employees, roles or teams are suited to this new way of working. Stephen Simpson considers how employers can operate an effective hybrid working trial period.

1. Consider if hybrid working model is appropriate

There is no point in running a trial period if the hybrid working model is not suitable for the type of work that the organisation does or if there is little appetite among staff, line managers and senior leaders.

Therefore, before launching into the hybrid working model on a trial basis, it is important for the HR team to do some preparatory work. This is likely to include:

  • giving initial consideration to whether the hybrid working model is actually suitable in the long term, from a practical, business and cultural point of view;
  • liaising with the organisation's senior leadership to ensure that, from the start, there is buy-in from senior management;
  • assessing which roles could be suitable for hybrid working; and
  • beginning to gather the views of the workforce on their appetite for moving to the hybrid working model.

HR can also start the collective consultation process with employee and trade union representatives over moving to the hybrid working model.

2. Announce hybrid working trial period to the workforce

The details of the trial period can be set out in a communication to the workforce, which should come from a senior leader within the organisation (such as the CEO). The communication can explain:

  • the rationale for running a hybrid working trial period;
  • the hybrid working arrangements that are being put in place during the trial period;
  • guidelines on hybrid working, in particular a clear indication of the expected split between workplace attendance and working remotely;
  • the duration of the hybrid working trial period, with a start and end date;
  • the timeframe for reviewing the hybrid working arrangements (for example a monthly review or review at the midpoint of the trial period);
  • how employees can provide feedback and flag up issues; and
  • how any changes to the hybrid working arrangements will take effect, including how adjustments will be made during the trial period.

It is also vital to set out some ground rules in advance, which could be via a draft hybrid working policy that is subject to change during the trial period. This gives the workforce an idea in advance of what their working arrangements will look like during the trial period.

3. Listen to feedback during trial period

The employer should take the views of employees into account when assessing the trial period.

Future of the workplace: survey

More than two-thirds of respondents planned to change working models in Q3 of 2021, with three quarters doing so with a transition period. One in 10 planned to roll out changes in Q4 of 2021, with the majority also having a transition period. A small number of respondents had already rolled out new arrangements, while the remainder intend to do so at the beginning of 2022.

This includes not only hybrid workers, but also anyone else who may be affected by the move to the hybrid working model, such as those who are attending the workplace full time or working remotely full time. It is important that the employer gathers feedback from all staff, including those indirectly affected by this new way of working.

This could be done through a survey gathering employees' feedback on how they think the hybrid working arrangements are working in practice. In addition, the employer should encourage employees to provide ongoing feedback, for example directly to their line manager or via the HR department.

It is also important to obtain the views of line managers on the difficulties and benefits of managing a hybrid workforce.

4. Be prepared to adapt during trial period

As unforeseen issues arise and are addressed, the employer should be prepared to make changes to their hybrid working arrangements to allow the trial period to continue smoothly. Examples of changes that may be needed are:

  • adjustments to the expected split between the time employees attend the workplace and work remotely, if it emerges during the trial period that less or more time than anticipated attending the workplace is necessary;
  • reassessment of any roles that the employer has concluded are unsuitable for hybrid working;
  • any additional COVID-19 safe working measures that it has been necessary to put in place for employees attending the workplace;
  • any additions or adaptations to technology and equipment that is being provided to help employees to work remotely; and
  • any adjustments to hotdesking arrangements when employees are attending the workplace.

The employer can update and redistribute its draft hybrid working policy to reflect these amended arrangements.

5. Decide and communicate outcome of trial period

The outcome of the trial period can be set out in a communication to the workforce, which should come from a senior leader within the organisation (such as the CEO).

If the trial has been a success, the communication can confirm that the organisation is moving permanently to this new way of working. The communication can outline the findings from the trial period and set out the next steps, including the timetable for the permanent move and what formalities will have to be completed (such as any changes to contracts of employment).

The employer can finalise its hybrid working policy and distribute it to staff to confirm its guidelines on this new way of working.

If the employer concludes from the trial period that the hybrid working model is not suitable in the long term, it can rethink its plans before it has committed to adopting the model. The employer will have the evidence to back up this decision, which should be communicated clearly to the workforce.

6. Formalise new hybrid working arrangements

Once the employer is confident that its arrangements work in practice, it can agree any contractual changes that it is implementing to make the move to the hybrid working model permanent.

To provide a sense of certainty, some employers will want to amend place of work clauses in the workforce's contracts of employment, getting employees' written agreement to the variation.

Other employers will seek to introduce the hybrid working model without amending contracts, by making the move to hybrid working discretionary. The advantage of this approach is that the employer retains flexibility to change the arrangements in the future. However, the risk with this approach is that the contractual arrangement should reflect what is happening in reality - if the employee consistently works remotely on some days, this may become an implied term of their contract.

Even where the employer has been running a trial period, it is a good idea for HR and line managers to talk to staff individually about the move. At this late stage, individual issues can still arise and can be tackled in one-to-one-meetings.