In amongst the positive news of businesses reopening we must remember that the pandemic has changed people in many different ways.
You might be chomping at the bit to return to the office but there will be those who are more hesitant. This may be down to health concerns or the practical benefits of working from home.
The sheer length of the lockdown has given businesses and employees a prolonged experiment of the WFH lifestyle and the results may just change the landscape forever.
The current figures suggest that almost half of the UK workforce (49%) are currently working from home full time which perhaps you won’t be too surprised to read. The more surprising stat is that it’s reported that almost half of these workers (44%) will ask to discuss a flexible arrangement with their manager when a return to the office is initiated.
That’s a high enough figure to potentially put you reading this into that category. If you are one of those 13 million looking to stay away from the office in some capacity, is it possible?
There’s no doubt that the repercussions of the lockdown will be felt for a long time and that the culture of working will change. The question is; will it be a widespread change or something only adopted by the more traditionally forward-thinking companies? BT, Facebook and Google were some of the first to say that flexibility would be discussed as you would perhaps expect.
Government guidance has fluctuated but is now being more lenient for companies to throw the doors open again, providing safety measures are being put in place and encouraged among staff.
It’s something we’ve experienced first-hand at The Recruitment Lab with noticeably more of our client and candidate conversations happening from offices.
If you are someone who would prefer to stay away from the office though it’s becoming increasingly important to ensure you strike up a conversation with your Line Manager, Managing Director or HR Representative.
Many companies are sure to be more willing to have that conversation but it’s important for both parties to consider a few key factors as to whether it’s something that will be allowed long term:
Equipment and general performance
The most obvious factor at play is whether a WFH staff member can achieve the same level of performance as one in the office. There’s a huge number of parameters that affect this and it’ll be extremely individual and dependent on your job role and industry sector.
Equipment is one such factor though and your ability to effectively work your role could be affected by the quality of your IT set up, your home internet and your working environment (comfort, light, distractions etc.) Mental health is another huge factor and can be affected both negatively and positively by being away from the more traditional office environment.
Effect on other members of the team
Another obvious one and particularly important for employers: will allowing flexible working practice for one individual or team mean that other staff within the business ask for the same?
In principle, no bad thing as if a workable system can be arranged then it’s there for its practical use. However, it’s clear how some workers are more suited to WFH than others and this could cause obvious staffing issues and confrontations. It could also have a knock-on effect on morale with workers being in and out.
Changes to finer details of the working contract and data protection etc.
Health and safety, illness, absence, performance, incentives, timing and many more are all finer details of a worker’s contract. WFH could change or invalidate a lot of these factors and throw up issues of their own. This is obviously something to review before putting WFH into long-term action as, should there be an issue further down the line, it’s important to know how to address it.
Appraisals and day-to-day working practices and contact
We’ve already touched on this above but one thing not yet noted is the interaction that may be required with remote workers. With a team of sales staff targets may need to be set, and organising a team meeting over an online platform or speaking individually with remote workers simply takes more time than it would if you were in the same room or building. This takes time away from your Team Leaders and Management staff and is another factor to consider.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider for both parties. As the furlough scheme continues to be phased out though it’s these conversations which need to start being had being management teams, HR and staff.
Reluctant To Work Return to the Office?
So, what if you get the call from your Manager that you must report back to the office the following day, week or month? Have you got any choice in this matter?
Again, this will come down to an extensive list of parameters but let’s work under the assumption that you work for an independent, medium-sized company and that you have the requisite space and equipment to work from home without them needing to purchase anything for you.
If you need to shield a partner or family member living at home or have concerns surrounding childcare have you any legal standing to refuse a return to the office?
Well, the government have been a little vague on the issue citing that you ‘should’ carry on working from home if you are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ but that you no longer actually need to shield should you fall under this category. They go on to say that your employer should offer you the ‘safest available role at work.’
This won’t quite strike hard enough at the matter at hand for a lot of people though. There is a system in place where you can report an employer to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) if you feel they aren’t practicing social distancing and other safety measures but they otherwise suggest you should use ACAS to request flexible working. This would suggest that you should only go down this route if you have a strong case.
So it comes down to our initial advice to start a dialog with your employer and for employers to look into and discuss the situation internally to prepare for these requests.
Want to Return to The Office But Can’t?
What if things are the other way round then? What if you are told to work from home and would prefer not to or can’t? For example; plenty of younger workers can be in flat-shares with limited space, lots of noise, and an environment less than optimum for a productive week’s work.
Well, a lot will depend on the government’s plans for the furlough scheme. At the time of writing, it’s due to end on the 31st October but it’s likely that many employers would be up in arms were there not to be a further extension of the scheme, or an alternative plan, were a second lockdown to come into effect countrywide.
With plans for local lockdowns seeming to be the preferred plan though, it’s wise for employers and staff to prepare for the lack of governmental support moving forward.
For staff, it’s a case here of checking your contract. Many will stipulate that your employer is responsible for you being able to carry out your work effectively, i.e. ensuring you have the correct equipment available. This means that, in effect, a business should have plans to supply staff with equipment should the need to work from home arise.
If the issue lies with the actual working environment then the problem is more thorny. The law surrounding working conditions is difficult to put into effect when you’re working from home as it’s extremely individual. Comfort, light and the mental health permutations are all factors which both employer and staff need to have considered. Renting desk space in a shared business centre could be one possible solution, but could be too costly for both parties.
An interesting study done by the University Of Sussex found that working from home is a more effective way of stopping the spread of the virus than a return to schools (read the full article by The Argus here) so that is another consideration for employers.
Individual circumstances and good communication between employee and employer about their own priorities is key and this is an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Should you need any further assistance with the conversation regarding remote working, whether you’re an employer or employee, please don’t hesitate to contact us here at The Recruitment Lab. We also have further free resources on our website which may help.
About The Author
Daniel Oldfield is the Branch Manager of The Recruitment Lab, a Brighton recruitment agency. He has worked in Recruitment for six years. He has a degree in Journalism and considers himself a film and music buff. Daniel also runs The Brighton Film Club review site in his own time. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would like to express your thoughts just contact Dan through The Recruitment Lab website.