The recent news that the law could change to allow Britons to work flexibly long-term post-pandemic may on the surface appear simply as a welcome step in the right direction for workers who value greater autonomy over work style. However, it is important to caution workers, employers and legislators against a rising tide of ‘false flexibility' and the damage this can bring to employee wellbeing.
Providing employees with choice around working schedules and locations are incredibly positive measures and address the growing need for employers to support workers to manage productivity, wellbeing and work-life balance.
However, a move towards greater flexibility should not be conflated with a total shift towards full remote working and ditching the office for good, which risks profoundly negative consequences for workers and businesses.
The numerous lockdowns we have had over the last year have provided a useful case study to illustrate this message. OSiT's survey found:
- 29 per cent of workers cited loneliness as a significant downside to working from home;
- 25 per cent reported feelings of anxiety;
- 57 per cent felt working from home did not improve their work-life balance; and
- Only 5 per cent wished to work remotely full time.
With legislators considering a legal facilitation of sustained flexible working, we must ensure we protect workers with true flexibility, not a new rigid norm.
Moreover, a law around this should be considered in conjunction with the development of proper guidelines for employers so they can support their remote workers properly. Indeed, OSiT’s survey found that 64 per cent of companies do not offer practical guidance to ensure their employees’ home office is compliant with typical office health and safety rules.
Ultimately, the value of the office in providing stability, routine and balance should not be discounted when flexible work styles are being devised – businesses and workers do so at their own peril.
Niki Fuchs is managing director at Office Space in Town (OSiT)