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  • Sebastian Mattern 20/20HR

The Choice is yours. Improve your Employer Brand or wait for Chaos.

The 23 March 2020 lockdown announcement instructing all employees who can work from home to do so has irrevocably changed people’s feelings towards long commutes and office days.

With the latest step of the lockdown roadmap hopefully being implemented in July, the official guidance to work from home may end but if press coverage about the future of working, discussions with our clients and ONS surveys are anything to go by then for many industries the days of packed offices will not return.

Clearly there are many advantages for both employers and employees to retain remote setups which, after the initial chaotic rush in March 2020, have been refined and are now working perfectly. The latest ONS survey, polling businesses which intend to keep homeworking permanently, put improved staff wellbeing as the top reason – 80% of respondents say their staff simply feel better and are less stressed. Just under 50% name reduced overhead costs and increased staff productivity, with the ability to recruit nationwide and experiencing reduced sick leave levels not far behind.

Employees being polled give an improved work/life balance, being quicker to complete work, improved wellbeing, and fewer distractions as their main reasons to work remotely.

Of course, there are disadvantages – these mainly centre around home working making it harder to work with others and harder to think of new ideas.

Job ads offering home or hybrid working have increased 307% when compared to pre-Covid levels. This makes clear that many businesses have understood and embraced the needs of employees. Those which haven’t run the risk of losing out on talent and in fact losing staff in the current job seekers’ market. Candidates across many industries are in short supply and this is especially true in exactly those industries where employees expect a change to pre-pandemic working practices – IT, Communications, Finance, Science & Tech, Marketing & PR and Media.

To stay ahead and to become a future-proof employer with an appealing brand and reputation, businesses should urgently thrash out a hybrid working policy. Doing so not only enables to pur business requirements at the heart of the policy (e.g. should there be 1 day per week where all staff or all members of a team are required in the office?) and then add in the “freedoms” around that, it also demonstrates that a company takes control, thinks ahead and can be considered a reliable employer.

There is another good reason for being a step ahead and having a fully-fledged hybrid working policy in place before the end of Covid restrictions – the prevention of chaos.

While many employees wishing to work a mix of remote and in-office days may simply look for employers offering this and therefore leave their current roles, there will be many who are aware of their statutory right to request flexible working and that this includes remote working.

Every employee who has worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks has the statutory right to make such a request. The way employers have to deal with it is set out in law, a simple “No” is not possible, it is sufficient reason for a tribunal claim (the default award is 8 weeks’ wages). Additionally, having made a request offers an enormous amount of protection to an employee, even if they have less than two years’ service.

Even if a request is handled correctly, a business where employees have been working from home effectively for the past 15 months would have a hard time refusing a request, especially where an office/home mix has been put forward.

The reasons to refuse a request are (again, this is set in law and these are the only reasons possible):

  • extra costs that will damage the business

  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff

  • people cannot be recruited to do the work

  • flexible working will affect quality and performance

  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand

  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times

  • the business is planning changes to the workforce.

Processing a flexible working request is time-consuming and approval leads to a change of terms in the employee’s contract which is yet more admin work.

Aside from that, the main burden for a company receiving and having to grant a large number of these requests is that it will end up with countless individual agreements instead of an overall, structured approach based on business requirements.

The reasons to be pro-active, to create a hybrid working policy, by far outnumber any positives (if there are any!) of a head in the sand approach.

If your staff want to work more flexibly than they did prior to the pandemic, then they will manage to do that – whether they leave or use their statutory rights. Being seen as forward-thinking and supportive of different ways of working will avoid that. If, on the other hand, your staff prefer to be in the office every day of the week then offering hybrid working will not change that.


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