Over the past decade or so, there has been a gradual move of businesses towards agile working, although some sectors and industries have embraced the practice with more urgency than others. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and in response to the lockdown emergency, many more organisations have had to adopt agile working practices almost overnight.
Osborne Clarke's recent webinar "To Agility and Beyond! The move to agile working" looked at this growing phenomenon and explored the practical and legal issues that businesses will need to grapple with if they intend to move their workforce to agile working on a longer-term basis. If you would like to access the full webinar recording, please email Michelle Wallace.
Osborne Clarke lawyers, Claire Bowles, Olivia Sinfield, Laura Allum, Jo Forbes and Isobel Turner were joined by ergonomist Kirsty Angerer from The Travelling Ergonomist to explore the topic from an employment, data protection, tax, and health and safety perspective.
Employment and data
It is important to secure employee buy-in from the outset, the panel agreed. Positive employee engagement is vital in setting the tone for implementing agile working and ensuring its continued success – and tools such as employee pulse surveys and discussion groups can give employers a head start.
Employer will need to consider the type of arrangement they want to implement and the degree of flexibility they wish to build in. The extent of changes to employment contracts, existing policies and procedures, and the formulation of an agile working policy will need to be considered. The implementation of enhanced safeguards to protect confidential information and personal data will be crucial. It was also noted that this is also a timely opportunity to check the drafting of restrictive covenants, as any changes that are needed to increase enforceability can be wrapped up with the changes that are needed to implement agile working.
Businesses will also need to address the data protection issues that arise from processing data at home and its monitoring of agile workers, together with the changes needed to its working practices in terms of maintaining team morale, providing training and support, and managing the performance and opportunities given to its employees.
Whenever an employer and employee consider moving to an employment model that involves an element of homeworking, both parties need to be clear about the financial and tax implications of the arrangement. Where expense payments or benefits in kind are provided to an employee, they are normally deemed to have been made by reason of employment and so are taxable. However, a number of complex exemptions can apply in the context of home working and so careful planning and consideration is needed.
Health and safety
Employers need to give careful thought as to how they comply with their legal duties around the health and safety of agile workers, and how to enable workers to carry out their activities in a healthy, happy and productive manner. Factors to consider include the home workstation assessment, provision of work equipment and the training of employees and assessors in setting up workstations. In addition, the impact of lone working on stress and mental health also needs to be carefully monitored with interventions in place.
Help with change
Businesses found the seminar helpful, with highlights including the effect of a longer-term move to homeworking on terms and conditions and how change is implemented. Given the complexity of these and other issues surrounding agile working, our experts can offer bespoke assistance to help businesses through the process and achieve an effective, happy and compliant agile work force.
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