What if Your Staff Won't Come Back to the Office? Managing Remote Work Expectations Post-Lockdown
Now that everyone’s had a taste of it, there’s likely to be an explosion of people requesting flexible working when lockdown comes to an end. Are you prepared?
While you may want people in the office, refusing their perfectly reasonable requests to work from home could be an unpopular move. But when everyone is making those requests at once, saying yes could be unsustainable, unless you want to be stuck running your business in coronavirus mode forever.
So, what should you do if more than one employee makes a statutory request for flexible working at once – and you can’t say yes to all of them?
Legally, there are seven valid reasons for rejecting these requests, including inability to afford additional costs, recruit cover, or reorganise work, or a concern that flexible working will make it impossible to meet customer needs.
There’s nothing in the legislation that says you have to deal with flexible working requests in any particular order. ACAS suggests a ‘first come, first served’ strategy, but this isn’t a requirement, so you’re free to prioritise them in whatever way suits your business needs.
However, to avoid ethical and legal issues for your business, it’s important to consider individual situations. For example, women are statistically more likely to be the primary childcare provider, so refusing a woman’s request for flexible working could be viewed as grounds for a claim of indirect sex discrimination – but a straightforward ‘ladies first’ approach to requests would discriminate against men who are the primary childcare provider.
When you can’t say yes to all requests, another way to handle them fairly is to offer shared or partial flexibility, so everyone gets to work from home some of the time.
If you want to avoid being overwhelmed with formal requests, head it off early by starting the flexible working conversation yourself. The need to get a formal flexible working request granted is diminishing because there are more open conversations going on.
87% of employees say they’d prefer flexible working, but only one in five line managers ever offers it at an annual or performance review – and an embarrassingly low one in 20 ever suggests it when promoting an employee, according to a survey by People Management.
So it’s worth encouraging line managers to start these conversations – but make sure they get training on job design and how to discuss flexible working, so that any agreements made work for both the individual and the business.
Raising the subject of flexible working may seem counterintuitive when your main worry is that it might be too popular. But a new phrase is starting to appear in the management world: ‘agile working’. This concept is seen as the next evolution of flexible working: rather than enforcing rigid rules that inevitably create winners and losers, it allows every employee to choose where, when and how they work.
Advocates of agile working believe it future-proofs companies by making the business itself more agile, enabling it to respond more efficiently and effectively. With customers demanding more flexibility and faster responses, pollution an urgent concern, and technology making it more and more possible to do anything from anywhere, this may be an option worth considering.