A year ago in lockdown one, we published a blog on ‘The Impact of Coronavirus on Employment – The Home Working Revolution’. Now, we wanted to reflect on this one year later to see what flexible working looks like in the future.
Covid-19 has undeniably had a major impact on all sectors of employment, specifically affecting employees who have care commitments and whose line of work cannot traditionally be undertaken at home (such as those who work in retail or hospitality), as well as bringing much uncertainty and change regarding the future for many independent businesses and organisations across the globe.
The home-working revolution began a year ago when the nation was forced to move to home working; businesses and employers were forced to think and work differently. Those which had previously refused home working on the basis it “wouldn’t work” were forced to find ways to make it work. Not only has this impacted people, but as a result of at-home working the environment has positively benefited due to reduced travel meaning less pollution. Further to that, at Thrive Law, we have gone from paper light to a paper-free firm since working fully remotely. With reduced travel, we are gaining those hours back which we can spend doing exercise, reading or something that you wouldn’t normally have time to do. This is one of the many positive effects flexible working offers us.
We appreciate of course that working from home, especially during a lockdown and a global pandemic isn’t for everyone, as we have learnt more than ever over the last year that we are all the ‘same storm but in different boats’, no two circumstances are the same. In our blog from 2020, we discussed various ways that you can make working from home as effective as possible. Over the year we have come to establish our routines, and boundaries of home and work, and how to stay connected to our teams and colleagues through Zoom meetings and virtual events.
What does the future of flexible working look like post lockdown?
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak urges firms to reopen their offices and to end home working allowing staff to return to the offices. He states that working from the office is crucial for young people to get to know colleagues and seek out mentors to help their career. He added further you can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people spending physical time together. We can agree on some of this; permanent home working would mean there would be limited physical interaction with colleagues and, in some industries, that might affect how colleagues work together and limit the creative work done. By the same token, ultimately, we are all missing that human interaction which we lost in the last year.
However, he went on to acknowledge that there should continue to be some extra flexibility for those who choose to do some work from home. it seems to be universally recognised that we need to have a good balance and flexibility in our approach to working in the future, to ensure each person can work in a way that works for them.
Working from home? Or flexible working?
Employers need to recognise how home working and flexible working distinguish. Flexible working is not just offering home working but being truly flexible in the way you work which should be embedded into your culture.
The pandemic has led to inevitable revolutionary changes, with businesses who claimed home working was not possible in many roles managing to successfully run their businesses with their staff working remotely. Some big companies had hundreds of staff working remotely within days, but would previously reject the flexible working request because of the needs of business and that the role can’t be done from home. This has had a positive impact on those with disability or caring responsibilities who have been able to work around these.
This has led to far more people wanting to work remotely and seeing that it is possible to do their jobs from home. Employers must now rethink how they will deal with flexible working request moving forward. Employers will struggle to refuse a flexible working request as they did before, as they have successfully implemented working from home in the last twelve months, so they won’t be able to argue that they will not be able to accommodate it. This, of course, is dependent on each individual and whether the individual was productive when working from home and still manages to excel in their role. Employers could be putting themselves at risk of claims if they refuse such requests without a justifiable reason.
The right to make a flexible working request
Any employee with 26 weeks of service with the same employer has the right to request to work flexibly; you don’t have to be a parent or carer. By ‘Flexible Working’ the government means altering the way you work. This includes changing your hours, either compressing them or changing to part-time or term-time only or working wholly or partly from home.
Andy McDonald, British Labour politician and solicitor, has stated that the government should be strengthening the right of employees to work from home when possible. “A right to seek flexible and remote working should be matched by a duty on employers to grant such a request so far as is reasonable,”
But what we are seeing is a wave of flexible working culture change rather than individual requests for flexibility as it was in the past. In practice the flexible working culture is having the right balance, experts have predicted a switch to “hybrid working” on a mass scale, meaning the old five-day week model of office work being replaced with more flexible arrangements, such as three days at home and two in the office or even more flex with employees and employers working together in an innovative manner to ensure everyone’s needs are met. This seems to address the balance of physical interaction and face to face mentoring for junior members of staff which the Chancellor was alluding to and allows for a flexible culture.
What is our new normal?
After a year of lockdowns and varying degrees of home working it is fair to say that some will be rushing back to the offices, but working flexibly has become part of our new normal and employers should recognise not all employees will respond well to a mandatory return to the office, back to the old ways. The changes we have experienced in the past year and how we have come to adapt to the new way of working will lead to lasting changes in the way we live and work.
Different companies are adopting very different strategies; the Nationwide building society said it would allow all employees to work remotely, while Goldman Sachs said it hoped to have all 34,000 employees based around the world back in the office as soon as possible. PWC is allowing all staff to work from home and introducing new flexible hours.
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said he believed much more “hybrid” working was the future of flexible working. Will a five-day week in the office be our normal moving forward? Or will employers embrace a new era of productivity, communication and trust and explore a flexible working culture?
How does flexible working benefit your business?
By embracing this revolutionary change, employers have come to adopt new leadership styles to ensure that flexible working is inclusive and viable. Leaders and managers have likely found new ways of connectivity and communication leading to greater productivity from their teams.
Studies have shown that flexible working arrangements have positively impact employee’s relationship with the company with 90% of employees stating their trust in the organisation had increased and 80% of employees stating that their supervisor is communicating the information they need to do their job whilst working remotely. This may not be the case for everyone, but allowing flexibility means that employees can find ways of working that make them most productive.
Flexible working requires leaders to adapt their leadership style to ensure maximum productivity. Managers should ensure that tasks are very clear and that if employees have any questions, they know where to go to and they know they will be supported. Flexible working requires managers and leaders to give the employees freedom, responsibility and trust to figure out the best way and most efficient way for them to complete the task. Managers should stay supportive and keep employees accountable with follow-ups on tasks which will keep employees focused on getting the tasks completed within the time frame set. Most of all though, managers should have learnt through a year of homeworking that they can trust their staff to work from home, rather than a previous assumption it was just a glorified day off.
Even without physical interactions, communication has been more efficient and inclusive with the use of virtual platforms like Zoom or Microsoft teams. This way is more inclusive for those introverted employees who feel less confident speaking in meeting in person.
Managers and leaders are forced to learn that not everyone can be treated the same and be able to work productively. Over the past year, everyone’s circumstances have been different whether that it’s home-schooling kids, looking after sick relatives or even navigating their mental health issues and balancing this with furlough or home working. Different employees require different needs and now more than ever we are becoming more aware of that. Managers require sufficient training and support to be able to cater for different groups of employees.
At Thrive we have created Thrive wellbeing, a mental health programme helping businesses to change their approach to employee mental health. The programme has various online modules to complete, with guides for management, template policies, forms and emails, all ready to download and use in your business. It’s an online interactive platform to create a healthy and inclusive workplace, it offers expert advice and support on mental health in the workplace. We are offering a free 3-day trial for businesses who are looking to invest in their people and create a resilient team as we head out of lockdown and into the new flexible workplace, please get in touch for your free trial.
Written by Deborah Norbury, Alicia Collinson and Jodie Hill.
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions on firstname.lastname@example.org