Covid, Flexibility and the competition

Insights - 07/09/2021

There has been a lot of doom and gloom with all things covid related, but the good news is that the vaccination roll out appears to be working and although “freedom day” was pushed back, it’s fair to say that life is slowly returning to some sort of normal.

A lot has changed since March 2020, particularly in respect of the way we have worked since the pandemic first hit. There is a lot of debate and discussion as to what working patterns are going to be post-recovery and various sources suggest that the government may legislate to facilitate more home working in the future.

Countries like Ireland have already taken steps to formalise a new way of working. Deputy head of government Leo Varadkar has announced plans to introduce a new law allowing employees to request the right to work from home. While this is similar to a flexible working request in the UK – i.e. the statutory right for employees to apply for flexible working if they’ve working continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks – Ireland appears to go beyond the UK entitlement by introducing a new code of practice for home workers which includes giving them the right to disconnect completely from work outside of their normal hours without being penalised.

The risk of resistance

Home working seems to have worked well during the pandemic – we’ve adapted, lots of companies survived, some thrived, and many people are enjoying spending more time at home with children or avoiding an irritating commute. It’s certainly true that less travel has a positive impact on the environment. But it doesn’t work for everyone and some employers are insisting that the old way of working is to be returned to once restrictions are lifted for good. Is this going to work?

Consider for a moment what was reported to happen at Apple recently. It is understood that CEO Tim Cook’s plans for a widespread return to the office were met with uproar amongst staff. The policy requiring staff to be in the office for three days a week has gone against the notion of flexible working and has already forced some employees to quit, according to a recent BBC report.

This poses a real risk for employers who take a harder line with demanding a return to the office. If their competitors permit and promote greater employee choice, where working from home is the norm, then companies may be faced with some of their most talented employees leaving to work for a rival business.

Potential pitfalls

Undoubtedly there is merit in staff working together under one roof, sharing ideas and driving innovation. There could also be practical difficulties in hybrid working arrangements and these shouldn’t be underestimated. Pitfalls may include enforcing certain days where all staff are required to attend the office as this could penalise part time workers who aren’t able to move their days around. Statistics show that women are more likely to work part time because they tend to take on more childcare responsibilities, so employers will need to watch out for any provision, criterion or practice which would be unfavourable to any particular group of people.

Ultimately, it’s too soon to tell how effective hybrid working arrangements are going to be. The concept had started before Covid, so perhaps the pandemic has accelerated this working pattern and forced it onto businesses who previously would have rejected anything other than office work. Ultimately, the most important thing for businesses is to remain competitive, but in order to do so they are going to have to listen to what staff want and try to balance these needs with those of the business. If they don’t, then its highly like staff will look for companies who are willing to be more flexible and it sounds like they won’t be hard to find.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues addressed in this article then please do contact a member of our employment team who would be happy to help.

Disclaimer:

Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.