Tag: hybrid work

Source: Withers World Wide

Workplace privacy arguably took a back seat during the pandemic as the working population grappled with seemingly more urgent concerns. But in the hybrid working world it is rearing its head as a difficult and complex issue for employers and employees alike.

Always on

Hybrid working has created a greater risk of work information becoming mingled with personal information as the boundaries between what is ‘work space’ and ‘private space’ and what is ‘work time’ and ‘personal time’ become blurred. This grey area can give rise to practical difficulties and potential disputes, such as the recent High Court case of Brake v Guy, which considered whether an employee who used her work email account for personal communications had any reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of those personal emails. The court held on the facts that she did not.

The use of work email accounts for employees’ private purposes is a perennial issue. Employees often forget that their employer may monitor the use of internal and external emails to ensure that its use is legitimate, lawful and not excessive. Whilst some employers may be cautious about reviewing emails which are obviously private, others may be less selective. It also creates issues for employees who are leaving a business, who may be keen to recover private emails stored on their work systems but may have difficulty sorting them from work emails or getting access to them once they are cut off from the company system.

Working world

Our work environments are changing, and fast. But how do you keep pace with change, manage your people and your business as we look to an uncertain future?

Cloud-based computing is now a key feature of hybrid working. In one case, an employee who had been using his personal phone for personal text messages had been inadvertently logged into his work cloud platform, and consequently all of those text messages (some of which related to his dissatisfaction with his employer) were uploaded to a platform visible to his employer and colleagues. In another case, an employee of a start-up using Google Docs inadvertently uploaded personal documents containing private information for the whole company to see. Such cases represent a pertinent warning as to the privacy dangers of cloud-based systems and the risk of private information coming into the employer’s domain.

Employees are also often unaware that their employers have access to their internal chat platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, and that their conversations are not in fact private. Some employers use trigger-based software to monitor red flags on such platforms, or will perform random spot-checks for compliance purposes. Some less trusting employers may resort to ‘spyware’ to monitor employee productivity and to track employee location.

Employees are also often unaware that their employers have access to their internal chat platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, and that their conversations are not in fact private.

As we highlighted in our article last year, employers can rely on software to track how employees are spending their time – how many emails are being sent per hour, how often the mouse is used, what location they are working from and to monitor teams and other messaging channels traffic. Employees should not overlook this and be aware that their use of work devices and platforms is fettered.

But there are also tricky issues for employers, who cannot simply assume that the inadvertent appearance of private information on work-based systems means that all rights to privacy in that information have been waived. Employers should question whether their information security policies are adequate, and whether they have warned staff of the consequences of mingling work and private communications and the monitoring of such communications, as well as ensuring that the consequences that follow for employees are fair and reasonable.

Regulatory alert

Employers must also be aware of the risk of regulatory intervention if they allow the use of unofficial communications channels to run riot. In December last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US announced charges against J.P. Morgan Securities LLC (JPMS), after JPMS admitted that, over a three-year period, its employees often communicated about securities business matters on their personal devices, using text messages, WhatsApp, and personal email accounts. None of these records were preserved by the firm as required by the federal securities laws. JPMS further admitted that these failures were firm-wide and that practices were not hidden within the firm. It received a fine of $200million.

So what’s the message?

New ways of working bring new risks. From an employee perspective, the potential technological complexity of hybrid working creates a very real risk of confidential, personal information being disseminated more widely than originally intended. Employees need to be savvy, to ensure that their expectations of privacy in the workplace have caught up with the realities of the hybrid working world.

On the other hand, privacy breaches and monitoring systems raise a range of regulatory and practical issues for employers and should not be used indiscriminately or without warning. In general, employment tribunals (and the Information Commissioner) take the view that employees ought to be warned of the consequences of the personal use of workplace systems and regulators are taking an increased interest in practices that might militate against proper record keeping, with potentially expensive consequences for employers who have failed to keep up.


With hybrid work, the workplace is no longer inside the four walls of the corporate office—it’s an ecosystem of employees working from home, in co-working spaces, and the office.

“It offers employees the autonomy to choose to work wherever and however they are most productive,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

“But while it is conceptually appealing, it’s fraught with subtleties and risks. For instance data shows the longer people are away from one another, the less they trust each other. This is true for leaders and employees, and for colleagues.

“When it comes to work, distance does not make the heart grow fonder.”

So what are the biggest mistakes businesses make when implementing hybrid working?

1. Treating talent as transactional

It’s important company leaders work to rebuild and maintain trusting relationships — with and among their employees. Those that don’t risk increased attrition, lower productivity and stalled innovation. People want to feel like they belong, feel valued and have a sense of work-life balance.

“Focusing only on the effort to attract and retain talent on pay and remote work policies creates a purely transactional relationship which undermines the importance of the workplace.

When office architects Steelcase, who are represented by Giant Leap sister company Inspiration Office in South Africa, surveyed 5000 people in 11 countries, they found that people who like working from the office are 33% more engaged, 20% less likely to leave and 9% more productive.

2. Changing policy, not place

By adopting hybrid work models and transitioning to more unassigned spaces, organisations are creating a new group of workplace nomads.

Not surprisingly, when people work in the office they’re more likely to sit in the open, where co-workers might be even more distracting than the kids or the dog at home. According to the research, it is also not surprising that currently more individual contributors (57%) than leaders (37%) sit in the open. This difference in the level of control people have over their privacy at home compared to the office could contribute to why some people prefer the dining room table.

Yet, right now, people at all organisations are increasingly dropping assigned spaces.

The workplace needs to do a better job drawing people in and creating an engaging culture. Offering people a destination — such as a team neighbourhood — can give them a sense of belonging, a comfortable, familiar place to find their teammates and feel at home. Having the ability to reserve a workspace can help people know what to expect when they arrive at the office if spaces are not assigned.

3. People want control and belonging

Leaders are focused on creating more flexible policies, but hybrid models alone do not address other important factors like a desire for control, a sense of belonging and a need for privacy.

Many leaders are shifting to hybrid work models with good intentions — to give people greater autonomy and control over their work-life. But hybrid policies alone will not address the control and sense of belonging people are seeking. They want a destination and a place to call home at work.

According to the research, people are more likely (55%) to choose an assigned workspace over more remote work when given the choice.

4. Forgetting about focus

New hybrid work habits mean people are spending more time on video — alone and with teammates. In fact, people say hybrid collaboration in the office is more important now than pre-pandemic. But, collaboration isn’t the only need.

So while some are considering a “collaboration-only” workplace, if leaders intend to entice people back to the office, people also need access to private spaces. Without options for privacy, the workplace won’t address how work really gets done. People who make the commute into the office are unlikely to collaborate all day long. Three of the top four elements people value more now relate to access to private spaces: 64% of people valued hybrid collaboration space, 62% single person enclaves for hybrid meetings while valued privacy.

“Giving people more options for the office privacy they crave can mean a lot of things — private offices, workspaces with enclosures that provide visual privacy or reservable enclaves or workspaces, “ Trim concludes.


The top 5 things people need for hybrid work

While hybrid work is increasingly familiar territory for some, it is a seismic shift in how work happens for many organisations.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “The blend of on and offline interactions means we have to think about the needs of people as they adopt a new way of working, and how the workplace and technology need to change to help them be successful.”

Businesses that have returned to the office have found people need to be re-energised and rebuild their “muscle memory” for being in the workplace.

“Feeling part of a strong community actually helps people achieve more and boosts productivity, engagement, innovation and retention. Many leading organisations are making changes before people return to the office so workers can see and feel their organisation cares and is taking action to meet their needs in a new era of hybrid work.”


People need to know their organisation is doing everything possible to keep them safe and mitigate the spread of disease. “Workers are particularly concerned about cleanliness,” Trim notes.

Psychological safety is increasingly important at a time where work is changing. Employees need to know that it’s okay to speak up, share ideas, ask questions and make mistakes – without negative ramifications.


In a time where people are working from diverse locations, people need their workplace to help create community and “social glue” that builds cooperation and team cohesion. Strong communities have a sense of shared purpose, as well as shared leadership. With high levels of trust and engagement, communities allow people to learn, adapt and demonstrate resilience.


“Hybrid work will require new spaces and technology to help people be effective. People need places for 1-on-1 or small group video calls, either enclosed or with greater acoustic privacy at their desk,” says Trim. Groups need new collaborative spaces that support both in-office and remote participants equally – where everyone can see and be seen, hear and be heard. Spaces should be designed for a better virtual presence with important elements like cameras, acoustics, content and lighting.


Physical comfort is critical for hybrid workers, especially if they are spending a lot of time on video. People’s wellbeing has suffered, and they need places and experiences that help them rejuvenate and reset throughout the day. People also need to be comfortable with how work is changing, how to use new kinds of spaces and new technologies to collaborate with hybrid teams.


Living through a crisis and changing ways of working, people now crave more certainty. They want to be able to have more choice and control over:

  • Where they work within the office
  • When they work at the office or home
  • How they work, alone and with teammates

Hybrid work is the biggest opportunity organisations have to reinvent their culture. People and leaders need to adjust expectations about how work happens.

“But thinking about a hybrid workplace as a community designed to support the needs of the people as they embrace new ways of working and interacting can be a dramatic and positive change that emerges from the pandemic,” Trim concludes.


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