The 4Rs are what many employers are talking about – Remote Working, Recruitment, Retention and, more recently, Redundancies. They are to some extent intertwined though. Pam Loch explains why
The growth in remote working has been accelerated by the pandemic. In 2019, around 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home, with around 30% reporting they occasionally worked from home. By April 2020, this had risen to 46.6% of people working from home in some capacity, and the numbers have continued to rise with the increase in hybrid working.
The launch in December 2021 of new guidance on hybrid working from the Flexible Working Taskforce however has reinforced that the way we work now is likely to permanently change.
Work from home
The pandemic, coupled with the ongoing financial crisis, has resulted in more employees than ever embracing the new work-from-home model, as it provides them with more free time, and less travel stress and expense. A recent poll found that 45% of workers are pushing for more remote working amidst the cost-of-living crisis.
This preference to work from home has, in some instances, led to tensions with employers who want staff back to the office. Some employers are less willing to adopt this new way of working, and increasing numbers are now questioning productivity and trust around remote workers.
There is no right to work from home unless a person’s contract of employment says otherwise, or an employer is legally obliged to. At present, employees have a right to make a request to work flexibly after 26 weeks of service, and the employer has to consider that request ‘in a reasonable manner’ within three months of receipt of the request. The Flexible Working Regulations 2014 permits one written request every 12 months. If these criteria are met, employers are obliged to give serious consideration to any flexible working requests, such as to work from home, or to change working hours.
If an employee asks for flexible working as a reasonable adjustment because they have a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the employer has a duty to agree if it is a reasonable request. What is reasonable takes into account the employer’s circumstances and on a case by case basis, will therefore vary.
Many employers are being forced to rethink their approach and be more accommodating to allow remote/hybrid working as they find it increasingly difficult to retain or to recruit staff if they are not prepared to agree to these arrangements.
There is evidence that remote/hybrid working can increase productivity and improve job satisfaction with staff more engaged and enjoying a better work/life balance. Employees are more motivated to work hard and enjoy their jobs, making it easier to retain staff and avoid the current recruitment challenges. Similarly, cultivating a reputation as a flexible employer can also help to attract fresh new talent. A recent survey found that 69% of employers advertising vacancies were “open to flexible working”. 68% of those offering remote/hybrid working found it enabled them to attract and retain more talent.
While being flexible and agreeing to remote/hybrid working can help with recruitment, it can also present challenges to retaining staff. The lack of engagement with managers when working remotely can result in employees feeling isolated, and poor management can lead to complaints of bullying or harassment. With the high demand for staff, it is often easier for staff to leave and find a new role, potentially at a higher salary too.
Managers therefore play an important role in making sure the remote/hybrid model works and need to be skilled in dealing with issues to nip them in the bud, to ensure they retain the best staff. Our Nip it in the Bud training helps managers acquire those skills.
Is hybrid working appropriate in your business?
Employers should also consider the remote working psychometric tests we carry out to assess employees’ suitability for remote working; and highlight areas that could be challenging so that managers can be prepared and address them.
With increasing costs and concerns around recession, more employers are carrying out business reviews which has led some businesses revisiting the way they work. In some instances, allowing remote/hybrid work has led to reduced costs for employers due to lower overheads. This has meant that businesses which may have had to consider redundancies in the past due to cost considerations are now able to avoid that for the time-being.
However, remote working may lead some employers to completely reassess how they work, potentially deciding to make redundancies, and engage individuals who work outside the UK to lower their costs, because they can find lower paid individuals who can work effectively, for example, from Barcelona as they can from Brighton.
The immediate future
There is no doubt that the remote/hybrid model is set to continue to impact the workplace in the UK, with employees able to stay in work for longer as they fit it around their personal commitments. This, together with the current economic climate, could lead to the economically inactive who left the workplace post-pandemic to return to the workforce, which could ultimately change the current recruitment dynamics.
Whilst there may be challenges in the short term, the impact of remote/hybrid working could ultimately lead to an evolution in the workplace which could reduce the recruitment challenges and help improve retention for employers in the longer term.
Pam Loch, Solicitor and Managing Director of Loch Associates Group