Excerpted from a Seyfarth Shaw LLP Blog by Paul Whinder and Verity Musselwhite Steel

As various restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have lifted across the world, many businesses have embraced hybrid working. As we look to the future, are these new arrangements here to stay?

Did businesses really embrace hybrid working?
When we talk to clients, it’s clear there’s a split in opinions. This is reflected in the increasingly common practice of implementing a hybrid policy while also incentivizing office attendance by enticing employees with free lunches or pets in the workplace.

Is hybrid working undermining team cohesion?
Many colleagues started working remotely in the pandemic with pre-existing work relationships, which eased the transition towards webinars and video calls. The recent trend of mass resignations means many joined new workplaces on a remote basis. Arguably, this makes it harder to integrate and build personal connections.

Teams risk suffering due to a drop in “water cooler” interactions, which can be seen as key in building relationships and sharing ideas. Granted, one person’s water cooler moment is another’s distraction.

Would an economic downturn put the brakes on hybrid working?
It’s clear many economies are facing uncertain conditions. This could motivate employers to double down on hybrid working to reduce costs through downsizing of expensive office space. Conversely, other employers skeptical of hybrid working may see this as an opportunity to push for increased attendance.

Hybrid working has become a key factor in job searches. With the current global war for talent, employers are keenly aware of this. However, economic downturns can shift the balance of power, particularly if recruitment becomes less of an issue.

In a market with employers in a stronger position, could the idea of reduced pay for hybrid working become popular? Employers should be aware this can pose significant legal challenges.

Have conditions for remote working changed?
Stringent restrictions on social activities during lockdowns meant that, for many, the focus on work increased. With restrictions lifted, distractions have re-emerged that could impact productivity, potentially bringing the question of employer monitoring to the fore.

What stance will governments take on hybrid working?
The success of retail and hospitality is intrinsically linked to footfall from city workers. In an effort to mitigate the effects of an economic downturn for these industries, governments could start incentivizing workplace attendance.

If businesses find themselves wanting to decrease hybrid practices, they will need to look at the legal structure behind them. Employers who implemented contractual hybrid structures may have far less ability to revoke their policies. This means a formal process may need to be followed, possibly involving employee representatives.

Such challenges may prompt employers to shy away from the complete elimination of hybrid working and, instead, look to reduce flexibility. Examples could include mandating specific days that must be spent in the office or temporarily restricting homeworking during busy periods. Again, there may be legal hurdles.

It will be interesting in the coming months to see how these considerations play out with both corporate and government attitudes.

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