In December 2021 I gave a presentation to some HR experts. My theme? Expected Labor Code Changes in 2022. One of my predictions (although I made the typical attorney caveat that there are no guarantees) was that the right to require flexible working hours would be day one after new legislation was introduced. Then I read that the government is unlikely to introduce such a law in this year’s Queen’s Speech, which turned out to be correct, so I think it’s safe to say I won’t be the next Mystic Meg.
As we all know, flexible or hybrid working has become the norm due to the corona pandemic. There has been a seismic shift in the way organizations organize their people and their office buildings.
As I write this article, I am in one of Blackadders’ offices, but like many others, I am fortunate to work on a hybrid basis. Before the pandemic, I thought working from home would be great; Not having to wear a suit every day or having to take the bus into town were definitely two plus points. But as someone who enjoys being with others and has more structure to his life, the novelty of working from home soon faded, especially during the long winter months.
My current pattern suits me very well, and I know anecdotally others, both individuals and employers, who also enjoy and encourage the same type of structure. I think that’s because it offers the best of both worlds: collaborating with colleagues and working individually; structure and flexibility; and homemade lunches and professionally prepared sandwiches (we all have our favorite spot).
How long will this go on? It’s difficult to say. Like everyone else, I’ve recently read news about flexible and hybrid working. The desire of some to get employees back to the office all (or most) of the time, or the law firm offering its employees the option to work from home permanently and accepting a 20 percent pay cut.
However, the reality behind the headlines and in most workplaces is more nuanced. There are certainly financial benefits to working from home. These include reduced travel costs for the worker and fewer temptations to eat out, but as costs increase so does the cost of running the home office. There is certainly a saving for employers when there are fewer staff in the offices, but there are also increased risks such as cyber and data security, which means, among other things, a potentially higher insurance risk.
There are also the less tangible benefits of working from home. The convenience of being able to walk the dog at lunchtime or be there when the technician comes to fix the boiler. But these benefits often come with hidden downsides: loneliness, isolation, and lack of supervision or training. There’s also a temptation to log in to check email or get that work done just because the laptop is there. Working from home can make it difficult for employers to notice changes in employee performance or well-being, or both. We always advise employers, regardless of your preferred working method, to have clear policies, as well as a clear reporting process and support structure.
Although there are legal requirements regarding flexible working requirements, nothing prevents employers from going beyond the legal minimum and many are already doing so. In fact, reports I’ve read suggest that this legislation could be postponed because the government is not currently required to introduce it.
The market has probably already enacted laws and must offer what applicants and employees expect. So, in order to attract and retain the right talent for their company, employers need to go further or allow something different than what they may have offered in the past. It can be a lot harder for employers now to say that working from home won’t work because we’ve all been forced to make it work due to the pandemic.
Don’t ask me to predict the lottery numbers given my track record so far, but what I can predict is that flexible or hybrid working, at least in some form, is here to stay.
Blair Duncan is an attorney at Blackadders