‘Future world of work’ – are you ready?

Out-Law News | 08 Apr 2021 | 10:59 am |

Laura Starrett tells HRNews about the options and risks facing employers after the pandemic

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  • Transcript

    What will the future world of work loom like? Contracts and policies will need to change so are you prepared for that? 

    According to Amazon’s Andy Jassy, the future will be ‘hot offices’ where employees reserve a desk. Business Insider quotes Jassy, who oversees Amazon's cloud business and is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' second-in-command, saying he expects employees will mostly work remotely after the pandemic, only coming into the office when they need to work on specific projects. He says the amount of time people spend in the office will depend on their job function but he predicts most people will adopt a hybrid model rather than being in an office 100% of the time. Many in the UK agree with him and, if they’re right, there will be a lot of change. People Management recognise that in their article ‘Preparing for a new way of working after Covid’, looking at some of the options and risks for employers who adopt a more flexible structure when the pandemic eases. 

    We’re currently advising a number of clients on this - flagging things they need to be thinking about now. At the forefront is Laura Starrett who joined me by video link from Manchester to discuss this. I started by asking what clients are most concerned about right now:

    Laura Starrett: “I think in terms of what we are seeing at the moment, there are a lot of clients asking questions around their flexible working and agile working policies and changes that they potentially need to make to those policies in order to cover some of the key issues that arise from homeworking because the reality is the enforced working conditions that a lot of employees are working under were brought in at a time of crisis so employers have not had the time to really think about the legal framework to facilitate homeworking arrangements and some of the key points that we've been flagging with clients to make sure are covered in those policies include things like clearly outlining who is going to be providing the equipment. Now in most cases that will be the employer because they will want to ensure that employees are accessing, in most cases, highly confidential information, using and the employer secure systems, and also thinking about, in the case of disabled employees, whether the provision of equipment is in fact a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act. The other obligation for employers is ensuring that their employee has a safe system of work at home and that involves engaging with them to ensure that DSE - display screen equipment requirements - are actually being complied with. The other interesting point here as well, Joe, connects to the financial piece and in terms of employees working from home, and the cost of lighting, heating, electricity, making it clear who is responsible for that, and perhaps pointing out that the approval of any application for homeworking will also be subject to having a good internet connection, having good mobile phone cover. Then more broadly on the finance piece, if you've got, for example, an employee working from home five days a week but you, as the employer, want that individual to come in to the office for a specific purpose in relation to, for example, an external client meeting, are they going to be able to claim travel expenses for that? Your positioning as an employer on that needs to be clear in the policy. Then when they are working at home, those touch points during the week are going to be critical so it may be that you want to formalise the plan around that so that the individual doesn't feel isolated at home, but also that managers are actually effectively managing the individual's performance and their career generally. So those are some of the points that I think are key to make sure that are covered and the policies. Just stepping back from the policies, in terms of the applications themselves, I think employers need to be mindful of remaining practical and flexible and also sensitive to the fact that a number of employees have been carrying out, for example homeworking, in the past 12 months, and they've adjusted well to that, and they're able to demonstrate that in terms of their performance that hasn't been impacted. Equally, the law hasn't changed so if employers do need to refuse the specific terms of an application that have been made, they're still entitled to do so provided that that reason falls within one of the eight statutory and business reasons. But I think it's just being alive to the fact that there is likely to be more pushback from employees because they have spent a significant period of time doing homeworking and proving, to a large extent, that it does work for them. So, it's being alive to that issue, I think, that’s going to be key.”

    Joe Glavina: “Employers could potentially save a lot of money if staff work from home because they won’t need to lease expensive office space. Likewise employees could save money on travel costs which leaves open the possibility of employers imposing pay cuts to reflect that saving. Is that likely to be an issue?” 

    Laura Starrett: “I think potentially it will be an issue in terms of retaining talent. So, I think a lot of this is going to be played out in the market and employers being alive to what is happening within their specific sector and what their competitors are doing. But I think more broadly, as well, there is still going to be, in my view, a place for the office and it’s important not to forget about the cultural piece here and also making people feel connected and feel like they are still part of a team and that's particularly important for junior members of staff who will require those touch points, that face to face contact, particularly in terms of supervision. But I think just broadly that cultural piece of making people feel connected, making people feel like they're still part of a team, is where the office then starts to have a different role to play. So it's much more than just providing equipment because obviously that can be provided at home, but it's that wider piece about people actually being together and what that can achieve for business.”

    That paper we referred to earlier is called ‘The New World of Work – Things to think about now’  sets out the top ten issues that we reckon employers should have in mind. We have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.

    LINKS
    - Link to ‘The New World of Work – Things to think about now’