There have been many news reports regarding the return to the office following the covid-19 pandemic, with many employees now expecting some degree of flexibility in terms of remote working, and employers trying to balance this by taking into account the benefits of having employees working in the office.
Many employers now recognise that asking employees to return to the office full-time is likely to result in the business being unattractive to new recruits, as well as the risk of potentially losing staff who move on to new employers offering increased flexibility.
There are certainly benefits of hybrid working in terms of employee welfare and as a result of this, we are seeing many employers adopting a hybrid approach. However, it becomes more complicated when employees ask to work from home full time, arguing that they have successfully managed to do this for the past two years during the covid-19 pandemic and there is no reduction in productivity/output. At that stage, the employer must carefully consider its position as whilst working from home undoubtedly has advantages, employees having no office presence whatsoever can be detrimental to the business as we start to emerge from the pandemic.
It is important that each request is considered on its own merit, as simply invoking a blanket policy can lead to employee conflict, increased management time involved in dealing with issues, reputational damage and potential employment tribunal claims.
Requests for bespoke hybrid working will likely need to be dealt with under the employer’s flexible working policy. Because of this, many employers are now considering ways in which they can manage hybrid working and try to come up with a satisfactory solution for the employer and employees.
It has recently been reported that a law firm, Stephenson Harwood, has confirmed that staff can work remotely permanently if they agree to a 20% pay cut to their salary. This is apparently to take into account the fact that during the pandemic, some employees were recruited outside of London on lower salaries to reflect that they were not required to live or commute into the capital.
The firm is now opening this option up to existing staff members, although it does not anticipate that there will be much uptake.
That is because, under the firm’s current policy, employees can work from home up to two days a week anyway, and it is hoped that staff will recognise the collaboration and training opportunities that office working brings.
It remains to be seen whether other employers will adopt similar policies, however, there is no doubt that a return to office working post-pandemic is a tricky area for employers to navigate, and it is likely that we will see a significant amount of press and employment tribunal decisions covering this over the coming months.
It is therefore worthwhile for employers to review current policies and take advice if they need to be updated.
If you require assistance with policy documents, dealing with flexible working requests, or managing employees’ returns to the office, please do not hesitate to contact Gemma Wilson on 0161 833 5689 or firstname.lastname@example.org