Last month, the Prime Minister went on the record suggesting that workers will largely return to offices over the coming months as Covid restrictions are eased. However, while some employers will no doubt be keen to bring staff back together in person at the earliest opportunity, there are other major employers in the UK that have introduced radical new flexible working policies in recent months. Nationwide recently told 13,000 of its staff that they could ‘work from anywhere’ after a survey of its staff revealed that the majority would prefer to work from home full-time after the pandemic.
For employers, this kind of policy can bring about significant benefits – not only does it reduce costs associated with office space, but it can also make a company more appealing to work for, attracting better talent in the process. For employees, saving time on commuting can deliver a better work-life balance and also saves money.
However, home working in the long run is not without its disadvantages. Many employers will no doubt have seen a decrease in productivity from workers in certain roles during the pandemic, and while this may be acceptable as a temporary state of affairs during lockdowns, expectations of staff as a return to the workplace becomes safer are likely to increase. In a post-pandemic Britain, it may be the case that home working is less attractive, particularly for those in roles requiring close supervision and management.
As companies look to develop flexible working policies suitable for the post-pandemic world, they face a difficult balancing act that can deliver the benefits of flexibility while trying to mitigate the potential drawbacks. As they do this, it is important that employers consider the often-complex legal issues that are associated with flexible or home working.
Working from home brings with it questions of health and safety, with employers legally required to ensure a suitable working environment for staff, who may be in wildly different circumstances in their homes. There are also legal considerations in terms of provision of company IT property, data protection and employee monitoring, which on its own is fraught with potential controversy. While some of these legal dilemmas also apply to working in an office, managing the necessary legal processes for these activities while working remotely adds a new layer of difficulty. This is especially true within even more flexible working policies that could enable staff to work from abroad, though this approach can work well for some employers in certain industries.
However, the suitability of more relaxed flexible working policies will vary from company to company, and it is crucial that businesses consult closely with their staff and consider their particular circumstances as they look to develop a futureproof approach. As the UK tentatively returns to some degree of normality, there is enormous potential for employers to make positive changes and offer more flexibility to staff – benefiting not just employees but businesses too. However, employers must make sure they consider this issue carefully in a way that fits with their overall business strategy to make the most of the opportunities that greater flexibility can bring.
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About the author
Simon Mayberry is a Senior Associate at LexLeyton, the specialist HR and employment solicitors. An accredited specialist, he advises companies of all sizes and across a range of industries on HR and employment law issues.