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Government intervention ‘not needed’ on working from home

Business leaders believe hybrid working will remain after the pandemic despite reports that the Government is planning to make working from home a default position.

One employment expert told the PA news agency that Government intervention was not needed, as firms decide what will work best for them and their staff when the lockdown finally ends.

Unions warned of a risk of a two-tier workforce, divided between those who can work from home being given flexibility, and those who cannot being given none.

The Conservative 2019 manifesto before the pandemic promised to legislate for flexible working, while ministers today talked about a “balanced return to work”.

Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, told PA: “Businesses and workers across the UK have proven that long-term remote working is possible and beneficial for some of us.

“It’s right that employees should have the right to request flexible working arrangements. However, remote working won’t be the best policy for everyone. Individual employers should think seriously about what is best for their business and consult with their employees before deciding their stance on remote or flexible working. This is a business conversation with their people, it does not need intervention from Government.”

Joe Fitzsimons, senior policy adviser at the Institute of Directors, said many business leaders were taking a hybrid stance into the future following a year of mixed experiences with remote working.

He added: “Our research suggests that 63% of businesses intend to shift towards between one and four days of remote working per week.

“Ultimately different organisations have different needs, and they will be uniquely placed to work with their staff to find the best solution.”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “There is a real risk that we end up with a two-tier workforce, further divided between those who can work from home being given flexibility, and those who can’t being given none.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The pandemic has clearly changed the pattern of work in this country, but lots of central London’s brilliant businesses depend on footfall that comes from office workers – whether our dry cleaners, cafes, shops or bars.

“Many employers are exploring a hybrid model of working whereby most staff split their time between remote and office working, and the mayor recognises there are benefits to people’s work-life balance of not being in the office every day Monday to Friday.

“But as we emerge from lockdown, seeing more people safely return to offices and workplaces will be an important part of our economic recovery.”

Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce, said: “The majority of businesses who are able to do so have told us that they will continue working from home in some form each week beyond the pandemic.

“Whether because they’ve downsized or offloaded offices, or see the productivity benefit in remote working, or a number of other reasons, the simple fact is that the pandemic will deliver a flexible working legacy for many.”

Treasury minister Jesse Norman told Sky News an announcement would be made in due course, adding: “Of course we want a balanced return to work.

“This is going to be very company or organisation specific and any guidance the Government puts out is going to have to recognise that.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Instead of leaks and briefings, the Government must publish their proposals for office-based workers post-July 19, and the starting point must be a strengthening of workers’ rights on flexible working so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces.”

Matthew Percival, CBI director of people and skills, said: “Health considerations have driven a wholesale shift in working patterns during the pandemic, and CBI surveys show more than three-quarters of companies expect flexible working to remain commonplace.

“Yet there is a balance to be struck as firms move towards a hybrid model of working. Companies and their employees are keen to keep the benefits of working from home. It cuts commutes, can boost work-life balance, and ease challenges around children or caring responsibilities.

“However, sharing a workplace still has it benefits. The office plays a vital role in training, collaboration and helping colleagues socialise. It is also a vital space for people whose home working environment can be challenging for mental health.

“For companies which get this right, the rewards are clear; engaged and energised workforces contributing to rising productivity growth.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Flexible working is not just for those who can work from home.

“There’s been a right to request it for many years, but that’s far too weak. Employers get away with flimsy excuses for turning people down for flexitime and shift swaps.

“As we see some staff working a hybrid model in the office and at home, we need Government action to make sure that our towns and cities remain vibrant places to live and work.”

Downing Street has said there are no plans to introduce a legal right to work from home but that the Government was consulting on making flexible working a default option.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve asked people to work from home where they can during the pandemic but there are no plans to make this permanent or introduce a legal right to work from home.

“There are no plans to make working from home the default or introducing a legal right to work from home.”

But he added: “What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option, unless employers have good reasons not to.”

He defined flexible working as “a range of working arrangements around time, place and hours of work including part-time working, flexi-time or compressed hours” but not necessarily working from home.