It is widely anticipated that as restrictions are gradually lifted permitting a return to work for those who have been working remotely for the last year, many employers will adopt a hybrid model of working with employees working at least some of their time away from the office.
Intentions were signposted last September, when the Chartered Institute for Professional Development released a report on “Embedding New Ways of Working” which it complied following research and discussions with employers across the UK. In the report the CIPD identified that part-time work was the most common form of flexible working offered by employers before the pandemic (56% of employers), with regular working from home being offered by 45% of employers. However when asked about flexible options they would expand or introduce after the crisis 70% of respondents indicated that they would do so in respect of regular homeworking, but with no comparable enthusiasm for an increase in other forms of flexible working. The CIPD concluded that the future of flexible working is likely to be dominated by home working as we emerge from the pandemic.
A change in mind set?
I have advised many employers over the years in handling flexible working requests and have often experienced scepticism about whether the proposal being made could be successfully accommodated. However the last year has demonstrated to employers that some forms of flexible working such as home working, which may have previously been perceived as unworkable, have been carried out in some roles with little or no change in productivity. Although employers have faced some challenges in managing, training and engaging staff while working remotely, many employers have clearly been impressed by what can be achieved working in new ways hence the anticipated growth in post-pandemic homeworking.
In addition, homeworking has often been accompanied by juggling home schooling caused by the various lockdowns and employers have accepted informally a greater focus on output ran than input. Employees have undertaken work at different times, either starting early or finishing later to meet personal obligations while still ensuring that deadlines are met and work is completed. Responses received by the CIPD when compiling its report suggested subtle changes to the way that flexible working request are handled, for example with informal arrangements around start and finish times being agreed without the need to follow a specific flexible working request process.
With employers therefore being more open to homeworking, and being more flexible around how work is completed it will be interesting to see how this could impact on future requests to work part-time, or on those currently working part-time. Some individuals who may have felt the need to reduce their hours due to logistical challenges posed by commuting and the need to do the school run may find that by working primarily from home and with employers being more flexible over when work is completed they are able to undertake their roles without having to move to formal part-time working.
Maternity Leave and Sick Leave
Greater home working may also impact on other forms of leave too. There remain many factors which make Shared Parental Leave an option that is exercised by a very small number of eligible employees but the ability of both parents to be physically at home even if one is working may make this a more attractive option for some if they can afford it. Although everyone will have their own personal circumstances, it is possible to that some mothers may feel more able to return to work earlier than might otherwise be the case if they are not facing a long commute and are able to spend more time at home.
Also, as reported previously recent research has indicated that employees working from home are less likely to take time off as sick leave than those who never work from home. This could be reported a positive, with employees perhaps feeling better and less drained working from their homes than they would if they were enduring a long commute and/or mixing with others at work who may pass on bugs and illnesses. However another way of interpreting these figures would be to see a rise in presenteeism from those working from home who choose to work when unwell when they should instead just take the time off and get better. Employers should therefore be vigilant to ensure that employees are still taking sick leave when working from home and take a proper break.
4 Day Week
Finally, the last few years have seen growing support for the idea of a 4 day working week and most recently the Scottish National Party included a proposal for the Scottish government to provide funding for companies wishing to pilot such a scheme in its manifesto ahead of the upcoming elections. This came on the heels of plans in Spain for similar trials to be conducted, and with politicians in New Zealand and Germany also advocating such a switch. Many questions remain about how such schemes could be successfully managed, whether productivity would be increased as their supporters suggest, and what if any additional costs may arise in their implementation.
However if the last 12 months have taught us anything as far as work is concerned it is that working practices which were previously widely presumed to be unworkable or unrealistic have been adopted, initially through necessity and then enthusiastically embraced. Our working practices remain in a state of flux and it remains to be seen how much over the next 12 months we revert back to something approaching pre-pandemic normality and how much change and innovation may yet be widely adopted.
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