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23 March 2021 0 Comments
Posted in Employment, Opinion

The future of flexible working

Author headshot image Posted by , Solicitor

A year on from the start of the UK’s first lockdown – and the start of home working for millions of employees, our employment lawyers are considering the future of flexible working.

Homeworking, flexible working

It was reported recently that even following the eventual lifting of lockdown measures in the UK, BP are to continue to advise 25,000 members of staff to work from home at least two days a week. BP are far from alone in this regard, joining firms such as the John Lewis Partnership, Metro Bank and Virgin Media in maintaining on a more permanent basis the policies that were hastily enforced by Covid-19.

What are the employees’ attitudes?

On the other side of the table, there is also significant demand from employees to keep flexible working as a more accepted option.

Though the right to request flexible working has been available to all employees with more than six month service since 2014, data shows that uptake was low prior to the advent of coronavirus. This was especially so for routine workers – a January 2020 study by CIPD found that only 4% had worked from home at all in the preceding 12 months, making them more than 15 times less likely to have done so than more senior managerial and professional workers. However, the lockdown experience has fuelled a greater demand for flexibility going forward, particularly among groups such as parents. One study in February found that 75% of parents wanted to continue working from home some or all of the time even after the end of lockdown.

How should employers now respond?

Now that many employees have gotten accustomed to some form of working from home during the pandemic, it may be difficult to force a return to heavily office-based work. One thing to consider in particular is that now that many businesses have a track record of working productively from home, arguments from employers that particular jobs will not be performed efficiently if done remotely will hold much less water.

Formal flexible working requests may only be refused on one of the specified statutory grounds, most of which relate to detrimental impacts on the quantity or quality of work performed, or additional cost to the employer. As such, any employer who wishes to encourage a return to primarily office-based working will have to carefully consider the business case for doing so. Indeed, steps that businesses have already taken due to the pandemic, such as the provision of IT equipment to employees’ homes, may count against them in any cost-benefit analysis.

The most sensible approach, then, is for employers to engage in constructive discussion with their employees around home-working, to gauge demand among the workforce and put together comprehensive policies that balance the need for cohesion against the desire for individual flexibility.

Although coronavirus has turned many of the traditional arguments against homeworking on their heads, in many industries there are strong reasons to work from an office at least part of the time, and indeed the preferred compromise on both sides of the table seems to be some degree of mixing between home-based and office-based work.

If you have any questions or need any advice on employment law, please contact our Employment & HR team:

0330 404 8151     Email

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