Keeping Compliant: Updating Practices for the Hybrid Workplace Environment

By Kath Greenhough

Workers want choice in their location of work. Businesses need to respond to this movement by introducing post-pandemic remote working policies and flexible working arrangements that will give workers greater choice and freedom.

But navigating these changes will require some critical management thinking to overcome a variety of HR and compliance challenges and ensure that new hybrid models work as intended.

Ensuring issues like inclusivity, employee engagement, mental health and wellbeing are appropriately addressed is crucial. They will also need to implement contractual and policy changes that effectively facilitate new working practices in a compliant and secure manner.

Let’s take a look at some of the key areas that will require some consideration.

Information security

With remote working practices set to become a permanent fixture, companies will need to revisit and formalise their information security policies and ensure that everyone is fully aware of their responsibilities with regards to protecting data assets and other sensitive information. That includes the inadvertent disclosure of information in public spaces, such as coffee shops, and ensuring that no one in their household is able to overhear business conversations, view information displayed on device screens, or access work-related documentation or devices.

Ensuring appropriate access restrictions are in place is just the start. Companies will need to provide staff working remotely with clear procedures and guidance on topics like accessing, handling, and deleting personalised data. Undertaking a risk assessment will be key to ensuring that all possible regulatory risks have been addressed, and whether monitoring employees will be essential to prevent ‘screenshots’ of privileged data being taken.

Worryingly, recent research reveals how many remote workers admit to cutting corners where security is concerned, putting their employers at risk thanks to lax cyber hygiene practices. These risky behaviours include downloading apps not sanctioned by IT, clicking links in unsolicited emails, and using personal devices for work purposes when this is not permitted.

Employee welfare and inclusion

Issues like harassment and bullying don’t just disappear when employees are working from home. What used to happen face-to-face is now happening via web conference, phone and email – so harassment policies will need to be updated to include harassment through digital channels. Ideally, there should be a clear statement on what constitutes visual harassment (offensive images, articles, personal comments via social media) as well as clarification of the standards that relate to the appropriate use of video conferencing and messaging apps. Ensuring everyone knows they have a forum, such as anonymous reporting hotlines, to disclose incidents and any misconduct will also be key.

Organisations are becoming aware that the risk of a growing divide between their remote and office-based workers means they need to ensure that everyone has equitable access to training, development and day-to-day information. Being out of the office shouldn’t mean being disadvantaged when it comes to being recognised for your work contribution or considered for future career opportunities.

Closely monitoring earnings, bonuses, promotions, and training opportunities to ensure everyone is being treated equally will be vital. Similarly, businesses will also need to ensure they have frameworks in place to assess employee performance according to the quality of the work delivered rather than where the work is done.

Guard against discrimination

Remote working does not release employers from their diversity obligations and organisations will need to be on the alert to ensure that minority groups and people of different ages, social and cultural backgrounds are not disadvantaged as a result of working from home.

Diversity and inclusion training is just as important for staff working remotely. HR teams will need to look for ways to proactively challenge implicit and unconscious bias, address potential team-building problems, and ask for feedback to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure in the ‘new normal’.

Leverage hybrid to achieve ESG goals

Finally, remote and hybrid working represents a singular opportunity to make headway where corporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals are concerned. The environmental benefits of flexible working policies extend far beyond the reduction of carbon emissions resulting from fewer transport-related commuting journeys or lower energy consumption resulting from a reduced office footprint.

Employers that prioritise sustainability will be best equipped to capture and retain talented people who want to build a future with organisations they see as being closely aligned with their values.

Similarly, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, hybrid workforce models make it easier to target new and varied talent pools. Whether that’s opening up opportunities to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and under-represented communities who previously couldn’t afford to travel or live close to the office.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has led organisations to reconsider what the workplace looks like. As organisations prepare to put their workforces onto a hybrid or remote footing for the long term, they will need to ensure that they strike the right balance between organisational imperatives and employee wellbeing.

Kath Greenhough, is VP APAC at Skillsoft