According to reports, the Government is supposedly considering launching a consultation which would give staff the right to work from home as a default.
As first reported by the Mail, proposals from ministers would make it illegal for employers to insist on staff returning to the office, unless completely essential.
The outlet further stated that the Government will consult on this plan during the summer with proposed changes being put into effect later this year.
A Whitehall source was reported as saying:
We’re looking at introducing a default right to flexible working. That would cover things like reasonable requests by parents to start late so they can drop their kids at childcare.
But in the case of office workers in particular, it would also cover working from home. That would be the default right unless the employer could show good reason why someone should not.
However, Barry Stanton, partner and head of employment at law firm Boyes Turner, suggested this change in legislation may be overstepping the line:
Many employers are considering a move to a hybrid model with some time being spent working from home, but to make it ‘illegal’ to require employees to attend a workplace, unless it is essential, seems a step too far.
Such a move is likely to damage the fabric of businesses, reduce cohesion and innovation. It may lead to employees becoming more isolated which could increase the risk of adverse mental health outcomes.
In addition to this, this appears to directly contradict the statements made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak who encouraged workers to go back to the cities once feasible.
Earlier this year, Mr. Sunak expressed the benefits of working collaboratively in an office and suggested staff may even quit if working from home full-time persists:
You can’t beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together.
However, Andrew Jones, CEO at Agility in Mind, expressed that flexible working, including allowing employees to work from home, could prove useful:
There is a clear case for continuing with flexible working, for a whole host of reasons. For one, people have learned that commuting is not a productive use of time and is detrimental to their quality of life.
While workers are at home, there’s also greater propensity to spend more locally – using breaks in the day to visit local hospitality and retail, opposed to buying expensive city coffees and sandwiches in already prosperous areas.
There is also a real threat to the loss of key knowledge amongst workers, who, if forced to work in a way that is no longer attractive, will vote with their feet and go elsewhere. There is also damage to a more inclusive environment for disabled workers, whose skills and talents would be lost from certain businesses, simply because they are excluded from attending office meetings.
Research by Robert Half demonstrated almost nine in 10 businesses (89 per cent) believe hybrid working will become a permanent part of working life moving forward.
This was also largely favoured by employees of which over two-thirds (68 per cent) expressed a desire to continue working from home for one to three days a week going forward.
It is likely that the Government’s Flexible Working Task Force, set up to develop policies and practises that will support employers and workers to adapt to new ways of working, will debate this issue further.
Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.