The government is weighing up an expansion of employees’ rights to work flexible hours or from home after a change in habits during the coronavirus pandemic.
The government confirmed to Facilitate that a public consultation is set to be launched later this year on how the flexible approach to office life could be extended so that workers can maintain their current working patterns.
A government spokeswoman said: “We have committed to consult on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to. This consultation will be launched in due course.”
The government’s manifesto already sets out that “we will encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to”.
The review is being led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Earlier this month, ahead of International Women’s Day, Liz Truss, minister for women and equalities, called on employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees, to help level up the UK, boost opportunities for women and reduce geographic inequality as the nation recovers from Covid-19.
New research published at the time by the government-backed Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and jobs website Indeed – showed offering flexible working explicitly in job advertisements would increase applications by up to 30 per cent.
The research, which analysed nearly 20 million applications and is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK, shows greater transparency in job adverts would create at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy each year.
With more people working flexibly due to Covid, Truss argued that now could be the time to normalise it across the country. She said the move would boost employment in areas away from major cities and help turbocharge opportunities for women – who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly.
But Niki Fuchs, managing director of office space provider Office Space in Town (OSiT), cautioned against “false flexibility”.
She said: “This news comes as a welcome step in the right direction for workers who value greater autonomy over their work style. However, it is important to caution employees and legislators against 'false flexibility' and the damage this can bring to employee wellbeing.
“Indeed, ditching office work completely in favour of long-term remote working can have profoundly negative consequences. OSiT's own 2020 survey found that 29 per cent of workers cited loneliness as a significant downside to working from home, with 25 per cent reporting feelings of anxiety and 57 per cent feeling it did not improve their work-life balance. Ultimately, just 5 per cent wished to work remotely full-time.
“The value of the office in providing stability, routine and balance should not be discounted when flexible workstyles are being devised and workers should consider a more hybrid approach to give them the best of both worlds.”