The pandemic has accelerated the trend of working from home but with the lifting of restrictions and workplaces reopening, employers are now having to think about what approach should be adopted when it comes to future work arrangements.
For many employees, working from home has not only given them protection from the virus but has also allowed the benefits of flexible working and can remove the need for a tedious and expensive commute. For this reason, many employees are reluctant to return to the office either on full-time or hybrid basis.
What approach is being taken by Employers?
So far, employers have taken very different routes. Some companies have welcomed permanent remote working on a full-time or hybrid basis whilst other employers are calling for a full return to the office.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has famously taken a rather direct approach to civil servants not being at their desks, leaving notes on empty desks which read “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish”.
It is fair to say this approach has not been uniformly praised; it is certainly not one we would recommend! Despite the controversy, Jacob Rees-Mogg has stood by his decision and insists that office working provides wider benefits for the economy and promotes collaborative working.
An even more direct approach has been taken by a London law firm which allows employees who wish to work from home permanently to do so but at a price. Those who choose not to work from the office at least three days a week will see their salaries cut by 20%.
Whilst working in the office can undoubtedly lead to more collaborative working and can help foster a company or team culture, this sort of approach does have its drawbacks and could reverse gains in productivity some companies have experienced through more home working.
What approach is best may vary from company from company but one certainty is that employers will need to develop and review their own practices on how to deal with remote working as the world returns to its pre-pandemic state.
What should Employers think about?
Employers will need to think carefully about what approach will be beneficial to not only themselves but their employees.
Employers should consider the following:
- Consulting with employees about what their preferences are about future working arrangements. It is always preferable to come to an agreement with employees if possible.
- If you want employees to return to the office, consider whether it would be worth offering incentives to encourage this. These need not necessarily be financial; an incentive such as promoting office facilities and social activities may be just as (or even more) effective. Positive incentives are likely to be better received than negative ones, such as financial penalties.
- What benefits do you want to achieve by office working and can these be achieved by a more flexible approach than simply a mandated return? It is worth looking at productivity and if, as is not uncommon, some employees are more productive when working at home, you may want to think about allowing this provided they agree to come into the office for whatever period is necessary to achieve your wider aims, such as attending team meetings or supervising others.
- Some individuals are still anxious and worried about the spread of coronavirus. It’s therefore important to listen to concerns and make sure covid-19 risk assessments have been carried out and are kept under review to ensure health and safety duties are complied with.
- Some level of home working is now a base-level expectation for many employees. If you adopt too rigid an approach, you risk being at a competitive disadvantage in what is currently quite a challenging market for recruitment in many sectors.
- Whether there are any policies that need reviewing such as flexible working requests and the implementation of fair processes. It may take some time for every organisation to find the best balance for them and this may require fine tuning over time. For this reason we generally recommend keeping some flexibility in future arrangements.
Find out more
We have been advising a number of clients on issues around changes to their ways of working, both on a strategic and an implementational level. For further help and advice, please contact our specialist employment lawyers.