What a dilemma – home working – for or against?
The other day I looked up from what I was doing and was fascinated to watch a tv report that the government was thinking or perhaps being lobbied into making home working a default situation, i.e., everyone should be allowed to work from home unless the requirements of the job demanded otherwise. In the space of just one year really, we have gone from home working being something that most employers did not want to encourage, to a situation where home working is the norm and going into the office is the exception. All the usual obstacles that employers talked about before the pandemic have had to be overcome because the pandemic necessitated it, and for some employers’, at best bemusement and at worse horror, home working has actually worked. As a disability discrimination lawyer it was not a shock that home working could be a successful adjustment and so I find it interesting that employers have been left dumbfounded at its success. Employees are working effectively from home, nailing their tasks and in many cases increasing their productivity – so what is not to love?
But as The Times recently reported it is still very much a “tug of war”. Some employers want their employees to return to the workplace because they want to foster team spirit, manage their staff in a more hands on way and go back to the “good old days”. Some employees also want to go back to the office – they miss working in a collaborative team environment – seeing their colleagues and building friendships, being able to commute to and from work and know that work finishes when they leave their work desk rather than it always being there in their bedroom, study or dining room. Home working, despite all the zoom and Microsoft Team calls in the world, can be an isolating experience. For someone like me, who is a working mum of 10-year-old twins, it helps me to work more effectively and meet my competing demands as a mum, cook, launderette, taxi service and Legal Director. But I can only imagine, and I don’t intend to be patronising – so apologies if I come across as so – but I would have found it very difficult in my earlier working career when I lived by myself. I really benefitted from watching my fantastic mentors (you know who you are) at work first-hand, learning by osmosis and then being able to go out and bond with my colleagues over after work drinks and late Friday nights out. It was a rite of passage for me as a young employment lawyer working for a large union law firm in the West End, before I went off and got married and moved to the US. I am sad that other workers in the same situation I was are not getting this experience at the moment.
However, what all this means to me is that whether an employee is happy home working is an individual evaluation taking into account many different factors. So it is encouraging to see that some employers, for example, Capita and Deloitte are offering the option of working from home for all or some of the time. Other employers, like Goldman Sachs have been more strident and demanding their staff get back to the office and when the restrictions lift, they may face some backlash.
We do not know what the fall out will be come 19 July when the restrictions are meant to be lifted. For now employers have not been able to force their employees back to office unless it has been absolutely necessary. But what is interesting, and I fall in this camp, is that a lot of employees would like hybrid working. Some home working and some going into the office. The Times reported “a survey of 2014 people in the UK by networking site LinkedIn last week found that while 49 per cent of employees favour hybrid working, 12 per cent want to work form the office full time and 38 per cent to work remotely full-time.”
So I am very interested to see how all of this pans out. As a firm we have not been able to meet, having to just recently cancel a Go Ape team activity day for next week because of the extended restrictions, but I still feel that there is camaraderie and support, and home working works for most of us. From a professional perspective, I expect to see more gender discrimination claims because being forced back to work will have a bigger disproportionate impact on working mums for example and there will definitely be more flexible working requests that will be harder to defend.
Whatever happens, the pandemic has most likely accelerated a way of working that was likely to have evolved eventually. The ramifications will be huge though as the normal working spaces – cities, office parks and surrounding infrastructure will be less used and the suburbs etc., will be placed under more demand. All I can say is we all have to adapt and I hope that we can do it in a safe and healthy way that looks after the employee’s mental wellbeing, because at the end of the day wellbeing is what really matters.
This blog is just my opinion. I am Anita Vadgama and a Legal Director for didlaw.