Proponents of versatile working had been exhilarated in July by information that the Versatile Working Invoice had obtained Royal Assent, paving the best way for it to turn into a part of the regulation of the land. Actually, the UK authorities was eager to promote the advantages of the invoice, promising that it meant staff throughout the nation would take pleasure in extra freedom and management over the best way they work.
Sadly, the reality is the brand new invoice leaves a lot to be desired and is unlikely to contribute a lot optimistic momentum to the versatile work revolution.
The contents of the invoice
The very first thing to say is that this isn’t technically a brand new regulation in any respect, however an modification to the prevailing Employment Rights Act 1996. And slightly than granting staff a brand new proper to versatile work, the principle goal of the Employment Relations (Versatile Working) Act 2023 – to offer it its full title – is to make modifications to the prevailing statutory proper of workers to request versatile work. The Act is unlikely to come back into power till mid-2024, however what precisely are these modifications and the way will they profit staff?
The primary change is to extend the variety of instances an worker can request switching to a versatile working association. Presently, workers can solely make one request in any 12-month interval. This may improve to 2.
Second, workers can count on quicker outcomes, as employers will now solely have two months to contemplate and reply to a request, as a substitute of three underneath the present regulation.
Third, workers will not be required to clarify what affect their request could have or want to supply solutions for the way to mitigate any affect when making a versatile work request.
Additionally it is anticipated that workers will be capable to make a versatile work request on day one among their job, as a substitute of getting to attend 26 weeks earlier than asking. Nonetheless, this isn’t contained within the Act itself, however will likely be set out in secondary laws that’s anticipated to come back into power similtaneously the Act.
However why has the UK authorities made these amendments to this course of? Is there that a lot demand for versatile work?
The versatile work revolution
The time period “versatile work” is broad. It doesn’t simply confer with working from dwelling or working remotely, but additionally to having versatile begin and cease instances that go well with an worker’s want. Providing flexibility is meant to cut back stress and supply a greater work-life stability, and employers might think about providing it to draw new expertise or retain current workers.
Most analysis factors to an enormous, untapped demand for extra versatile working preparations. As an illustration, LinkedIn information indicated that the demand for distant worok (only one type of versatile work, but additionally a typical one) vastly outstrips the provision of distant work roles.
Distant work is especially common because it provides staff the selection to reside wherever they select, with out limiting their profession prospects. Distant staff use it to spend extra time with their household as a substitute of commuting, reside nearer to family members, or travelling to totally different international locations whereas remaining employed.
However the advantages of distant work additionally lengthen to employers. Companies that undertake distributed workforce fashions have a a lot bigger pool of expertise out there to them, together with expert staff residing abroad. Corporations can construct worldwide work groups as a primary step to getting into new markets or supply round the clock providers to clients in numerous time zones.
Our personal analysis on the subject, the 2023 Distant Workforce Report, highlighted a number of benefits supplied by distant work. Based mostly on a survey of 1,000 decision-makers all over the world, the report discovered that 69% of employers who’ve adopted distant work skilled elevated workers retention, whereas 57% acknowledged it was simpler to rent and retain expertise with a distant workforce. Moreover, 72% of employers with a global distant workforce mentioned that productiveness had elevated – this challenges the frequent assumption that distant work is much less productive.
Boosting productiveness and producing cost-savings via elevated retention are win-win for companies that embrace distant work. However it may also be a aggressive benefit: with increasingly staff in search of versatile work preparations, providing staff this flexibility may also help entice expertise away from opponents.
Given this context, ought to we view the versatile working invoice as a serious step ahead? Not essentially.
A missed alternative
The reality is the legislative modifications within the Act usually are not sufficient to have an actual affect on staff. The Act is merely tweaking an current course of for requesting versatile work – a course of that’s needlessly bureaucratic and painstakingly sluggish (it shouldn’t take an employer greater than two weeks to seek the advice of with related stakeholders relating to versatile preparations, not to mention two months).
A key drawback is that the Act nonetheless in the end offers employers the proper to reject an worker’s request. The actual fact a employee can now make a number of requests a yr is unlikely to sway an employer who’s sceptical about the advantages of versatile work.
Companies might additionally face a bureaucratic headache if a number of workers all make versatile working requests, as every request will must be processed individually. Adopting easy company-wide insurance policies for versatile work might assist organisations keep away from this time-consuming paperwork.
The UK authorities ought to have seemed to European friends who’ve established extra versatile rights for staff. It’s notably tough within the Netherlands for employers to reject a versatile work request, whereas staff in Finland have the proper to begin or end their work three hours earlier or later than their core working hours and most workers can select the place and after they work for at the very least 50% of their working hours.
So whereas the Versatile Working Invoice is one thing of a missed alternative, all shouldn’t be misplaced. The versatile working revolution is marching on; increasingly firms are recognising this development and providing larger flexibility choices to their staff with a purpose to entice expertise and retain expert staff. It’s these forward-looking firms which are going to race forward of the competitors.