Since the start of lockdown many workers have been working from home and recent studies suggest that some form of ‘working from home’ (WFH) flexibility is the preferred option for the majority going forward.
Many employers have also come to see the benefits of keeping some form of flexible working arrangements. Twitter told staff in 2020 that they can work from home ‘forever’ and very recently, BP announced that office based staff would be expected to work from home two days a week.
However, making permanent changes to the way a business operates raises a number of questions and issues for both employers and employees:
- Organisations need to find out what the staff want and compare it to the businesses needs
- They need to review service contracts and manage changes if required
- They must think about their communication policies and protocols for use of systems
- Reviewing work policies are a must and consideration must be given to updating them to incorporate flexible work methods including staff welfare
- The identification of key performance indicators for use in appraisals and reviews for staff who WFH must be undertaken
- Consideration of the longer term effect of WFH on salaries, and those salaries being paid by competitors cannot be ignored
There will be contractual issues to resolve if the parties cannot agree to new ways of working as few contracts of employment allow an employer to demand an employee works from home. Consider too the hours staff are required to work; should a contract that allows/requires flexibility with the place of work also allow the same freedom vis-à-vis the time of work? Fundamentally, it will be hard to know what staff want or need without some form of discussion or consultation, so engagement with staff is key to any consultation that might need to take place before changes are made.
Remote working has demonstrated the need for enhanced communication practices covering both content and channels. Whether it is a personal or an employment relationship, things break down in the absence of relevant and timely communication.
Without a conscious effort to ensure that key information is captured and passed on to relevant people in a business, the more that people WFH, the greater the prospect for internal communication to suffer, relationships to break down, and with it, key commercial information and opportunities missed.
While we have become very familiar with online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, do we have protocols for using these platforms in a uniform way and, more importantly, do we have the systems and safeguards in place to manage confidential information?
In light of any operational and policy changes, it may be necessary to notify insurers, and even landlords, to ensure that there has been no inadvertent breach of a policy or lease.
The physical and emotional wellbeing of staff is much more difficult to monitor with home working and employers need to give serious thought to how they will discharge their duties to look after staff safety and welfare. WFH also presents challenges to the way that staff are trained and developed.
Finally, longer term, will those who work predominately from home justify or command the same salary as those who do not? The shrewd employer may save money by requiring its workforce to spend more time WFH and thus be better able to afford current salaries or even improve wages, but workers who WFH are likely to enjoy a reduction in their daily expenses and value can be attributed to the improvement of their work/life balance. One might predict that salaries will continue to increase only very slowly if at all among those who WFH.
If more women than men end up WFH, and if there is a divergence of salaries it may have a negative effect on any Gender Pay Gap or highlight other inconsistency between the treatments of staff, which could give rise to issues of indirect discrimination.
Or, perhaps staff in more provincial areas will see an overall pay rise? If the ‘city employee’ who WFH no longer commands such a premium salary, there could come a time when the out of town competitor decides it can compete on salaries. This may result in some wage inflation and the overall effect being a flattening of the peaks and troughs in the differences of pay that can occur among those employed in similar roles and who WFH.
Jolyon Berry is recognised by the Legal 500 as a “Leading Individual” and the TSP Employment team is recommended as “Tier 1”, one of the top three in Essex recommended by the Legal 500 in this practice area.
Jolyon can be contacted directly on 01206 217 024 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org