A Flexible Approach Pays Dividends, But Wider Employment Issues Must Be Addressed
As lockdown restrictions begin to lift, lawyers say increasing numbers of businesses making the switch to hybrid working patterns will need to consider the wider issues moving to new flexible working practices can create.
After MP Liz Truss called for flexible working to be ‘normalised’ on 5 March, it was expected there would be reference made to this in the Queen’s Speech, but in the absence of the expected Employment Bill, lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say many are already making or considering the switch.
According to a recent survey of HR leaders by Irwin Mitchell, over half of respondents had already consulted with staff over agile working, with 79% saying their working would now be agile, with just 16% remaining workplace based.
They key challenges associated with flexible working were considered to be staff isolation (67%), maintaining collaborative working (73%) and communication and performance management on 49% and 43% respectively. Interestingly, only 35% considered IT issues could prove a problem.
Employment lawyers at the firm say that lessons learned during the pandemic means business have little to fear by changing their approach, so long as they support staff working from home, encourage them to ‘disconnect’ and consider how they can develop more junior staff.
Expert Opinion“Employers need to consider the best ways to integrate and support staff no longer physically at the office, to ensure they don’t feel isolated, ignored or unappreciated. Learning and mentoring has not come up enough and these are key issues that have so far gone under the radar. Younger, more junior staff in particular are likely to be more affected by this.
“Zoom and Microsoft Teams have revolutionised meetings, but these may need to be run differently to be inclusive and to avoid those who are office based dominating conversations and decision making. Harmonising IT so everyone is experiencing meetings in the same way helps.
“The ‘right to disconnect’ has been raised over the last year and employers should take care to see that staff struggling to separate their work and home lives have the right levels of support.
“Our survey is more evidence that some do find it difficult to disconnect from work and feel pressured to be online and working all the time. This can lead to anxiety, depression and work related stress and will be something to watch out for as such modes of working become normalised.
“We are at the start of a revolution in working practices and it’s clear they will present real opportunities for businesses to do more than ever for clients and customers. But this also brings with it a new set of challenges and pitfalls. It's important businesses are mindful of employment law when making changes and ensuring they act now to get employees on board and in agreement with them, as these new practices become established.” Danielle Parsons - Partner