Prior to 2020, employers largely took a reluctant approach to flexible working. Being physically present in the office and collaborating casually with colleagues was the expectation of almost all white-collar jobs.
For the few full-time home workers that did exist, suspicions of being at home and cutting the grass were common quips. Yet this is all starting to change.
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This week, the government announced that workers will have the right to request flexible working from the first day of employment. Here’s what it means for you.
How have attitudes to flexible working changed?
To restrict the spread of Covid-19 back in March 2020, the government asked all workers to work from home. For many of us, it was a new concept. For those already on board with flexible working, it was simply an extension of ‘work from home Fridays’.
And as horrific as the pandemic has been, one small silver lining has been the success of working from home. That’s because it’s now widely regarded that workers are no less productive when working from home than they are in the office.
In fact, for many employees, it can improve their wellbeing, especially as a typical work from home commute takes a matter of seconds as opposed to a typical 30-minute train or car journey.
Slowly but surely, employers and the government are starting to recognise these facts.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working doesn’t just refer to being able to work from home.
It can also refer to working alternative hours. This can sometimes include working ‘condensed’ hours’ to allow for a non-working day every two weeks or so. Flexible working can also refer to the ability to share a job with someone else.
What are the new rules?
The government is expected to give all employees the right to request flexible working from their first day of employment. Currently, employees can only do this after six months in a role.
If an employer refuses a request, they must give a reason why. However, many feel that the requirement to explain a refusal doesn’t go far enough, as a mention of ‘business needs’ is often a sufficient excuse for reluctant employers.
For this reason, many are calling for the government to change the law. That’s because they want a legal right for employees to work from home, rather than the right to ask.
Labour MP Angela Rayner, who is also the Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, says that a Labour government would do just that:
She explains: “Labour will give workers the right to flexible working – not just the right to request it – and give all workers full rights from day one on the job.”
Will more people work from home after the pandemic?
There’s no doubt that many employees have viewed working from home positively over the past 18 months or so.
Going forward, it’s likely that the option for flexible working will become a non-negotiable ‘perk’ offered to employees, especially if employers have to fight to attract the best talent in future.
Interestingly, a recent EY survey suggests that half of employees globally would quit their jobs if they were not provided with an option for flexible working post-pandemic. The same survey revealed that 90% of respondents want flexibility in where and when they work.
How can I request flexible working?
While rule changes to further support flexible working haven’t yet been made law, you can still ask your employer for the right to work from home, as well as other flexible working arrangements.
While you have the right to do this after six months in your job, there’s nothing stopping you from asking earlier. The worst your employer can do is to say no, though they won’t have to give you a reason.
Are you in a position to continue working flexibly? See our article on some nifty budgeting tips for working from home.