During the pandemic, many firms recognised the benefits of working from home or hybrid models, with employees splitting their hours between the office and the home desk. Many employees have seen benefits in both their mental and physical health leading to productivity gains at work, and increased enthusiasm for their job.
Presently, individuals have the statutory right to request flexible working, which encompasses both flexible hours and working from home. If informal agreement cannot be reached, then employees can make a statutory application if they have worked with the same employer for the last 26 weeks.
The employee must write to the employer, and then the employer has three months in which to reach a decision (although this time limit can be extended if agreed with the employee beforehand). Agreement is significant as a successful application requires the terms and conditions of the employee’s contract to be changes.
Although employers are required to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’, there is no definition as to what is ‘reasonable’, nor any requirement to formally justify their reasoning. All that is needed for a refusal is a ‘good business reason’. Employees may be able to complain to an employment tribunal, but in many cases this is not practical: bringing your employer to a tribunal is unlikely to make them view you favourably or achieve the outcome desired. Employees may only make one application for flexible working a year.
The government are currently considering making working from home the ‘default’ option, with employers only requiring staff to work from the company office where it is ‘essential’ for them to do so. In reality, it is likely that many employees would prefer the mixed model, which enables them to work from home some days, but return to the office on others. The former time allowing for concentration and solo working with the latter enabling easier collaboration and mentoring.
Again, there are no hard and fast rules yet as to what is ‘essential’, and many workers who cannot work from home, such as teachers, nurses and police officers, are still set to miss out. However, it could mark an important shift as to how we view work and, more specifically, end the ‘presenteeism’ culture.
Another benefit may be that companies feel more confident moving outside of London. If office space and postcodes no longer define an organisation’s prestige, they may want to relocate to take advantage of cheaper rents and be able to attract staff from across the country as the workforce is not tied to geography.
Staff would also be spared from the long commute (and its expense) and again move outside of London into leafier areas, which in turn boots suburban and rural economies. It is not wonder therefore that the government may wish to encourage working from home if it means that the ‘levelling up’ agenda is forwarded.