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The workplace has changed enormously in the last few years, largely thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gone are the hours spent slogging away in a tiny office. Nowadays, people tend to work either in a hot-desking setup, on a hybrid basis with some days in the office and some at home, or even completely remotely—from co-working spaces and cafes to tropical beach paradises like Bali.
To keep up to date with the changing workplaces, new legislation has come into place in the UK, giving workers in the country the right to request flexible or part-time hours from the start of their time in a particular workplace more often.
What is the legislation, and what does it mean for the future of work in general? We’ll go into it all in this article.
What is Flexible Working?
Flexible working is working in any way that is outside of the usual 9 a.m.–5 p.m. routine in an office. Employees could work on a flexible basis if they are remote, if they are freelancers, or if they only go into the office at certain times per week.
Flexible working can also include moving to part-time status—which is a popular move for some professionals when they have children—or changing hours to fit around other parts of their life. For example, somebody with school-age children may take three hours off in the afternoon to pick up their children and spend time with them after school, and then work for another three hours in the evening.
A flexible working policy could also generally include very “normal” hours but with the flexibility to change them if necessary. For example, somebody could mainly work in an office, but be able to work from home when desired—even if the only reason for that is that they can’t be bothered with a commute!
Or, somebody could work a regular 9-to-5 one day but come in at around lunchtime and work until 8 pm on the next day.
What is the New Legislation?
This legislation, which was put forward on December 5, 2022, permits up to two flexible working requests in any 12-month period.
This means that an employee could formally request to go down to four days per week and then, a few months later, request to go back up to five days per week. Or, an employee who is working on a hybrid basis could request to change the number of days that they’re in the office.
However, one very important part of the legislation that needs to be highlighted is that it only gives employees the right to ask for flexible working. It does not entitle the employee to any form of flexible working. So, while somebody could theoretically ask for two changes to their working policy per year, their manager could just as easily reject these changes.
The legislation also doesn’t mention informal requests. Theoretically, an employee could ask for flexible working more than once a year under the current legislation; but they could be reprimanded if they asked for it more than once in the working year. This new legislation means that this reprimand would only happen if they asked for flexible working more than twice per year.
Are More Jobs Becoming Flexible?
Due to the increase in collaboration technology, largely thanks to lockdowns during the pandemic that people couldn’t go to work, more jobs are advertised as flexible than ever before.
However, we still aren’t looking at a majority. In fact, Timewise has done a survey that concludes that only 3/10 jobs are nowadays advertised as flexible. This usually refers to job-sharing or flexible hours.
Hybrid jobs, which are when somebody can work both in the office and at home, account for around 24% of the total workforce. Of course, this includes the fact that many jobs cannot be done on a hybrid basis. However, this survey suggests that 77% of eligible companies are hybrid in some form and that 47% of employees would leave if they were not able to work on a hybrid basis.
We can definitely see that the landscape of flexible, remote, and hybrid working is changing, and this new legislation is a step in the right direction. However, without employees having a right to flexible working, it is a bit of empty legislation, and it will be intriguing to see whether anything further changes in the next few years!
What are the Pros and Cons of Flexible Working?
Companies are consistently increasing their flexible work policies, and working on a remote or hybrid basis is quickly becoming the expectation.
There are lots of benefits to flexible work. It can give employees a happy work/life balance, enabling them to skip commuting, and have more time to relax, sleep, and spend with their family. This can ultimately lead to better employee mental health and more dedication and gratitude to their company.
Employers can save some money, as they usually have to cover lower energy costs for offices during the flexible time. With heating bills soaring to new heights, this can be very noticeable! Plus, many remote employees even pay for their equipment.
However, flexible working also has some concerns. Fully remote workers can battle loneliness, whereas hybrid or flexible workers may struggle with their schedule if it’s different every week.
Moreover, employers often think that the productivity of their staff is lower when they’re working remotely. When work isn’t done quickly, many employers question whether their staff really is working the full hours.
This is objectively hard to measure: even employees connected to a Zoom call can be watching YouTube videos on mute or secretly playing in no deposit bonus casinos instead of paying attention. Training new remote workers can also be a challenge; it’s difficult to induct somebody when you’re not there in person with them.
However, the fact that more and more companies are adopting flexible working policies means that, ultimately, most employers will have to acknowledge them at some point. If they don’t, then employees are likely to seek jobs elsewhere!
While this legislation is a great step in the right direction, there are still a few challenges when it comes to flexible work. However, it is becoming much more of the norm to have flexible workplaces, which means that aside from any legislation, increasing numbers of companies are much more likely to offer these policies.