Proponents of versatile working had been exhilarated in July by information that the Versatile Working Invoice had acquired Royal Assent, paving the way in which for it to turn out to be a part of the legislation of the land. Actually, the UK authorities was eager to promote the advantages of the invoice, promising that it meant employees throughout the nation would get pleasure from extra freedom and management over the way in which they work.
Sadly, the reality is the brand new invoice leaves a lot to be desired and is unlikely to contribute a lot constructive 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 legislation in any respect, however an modification to the prevailing Employment Rights Act 1996. And quite than granting employees a brand new proper to versatile work, the primary objective of the Employment Relations (Versatile Working) Act 2023 – to present it its full title – is to make adjustments to the prevailing statutory proper of staff to request versatile work. The Act is unlikely to return into drive till mid-2024, however what precisely are these adjustments and the way will they profit employees?
The primary change is to extend the variety of instances an worker can request switching to a versatile working association. At present, staff can solely make one request in any 12-month interval. This may improve to 2.
Second, staff can anticipate sooner outcomes, as employers will now solely have two months to contemplate and reply to a request, as a substitute of three below the present legislation.
Third, staff will now not be required to clarify what influence their request may have or want to supply recommendations for the right way to mitigate any influence when making a versatile work request.
Additionally it is anticipated that staff will have the ability to make a versatile work request on day considered one of their job, as a substitute of getting to attend 26 weeks earlier than asking. Nevertheless, this isn’t contained within the Act itself, however shall be set out in secondary laws that’s anticipated to return into drive concurrently 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 consult with working from dwelling or working remotely, but additionally to having versatile begin and cease instances that swimsuit an worker’s want. Providing flexibility is meant to cut back stress and supply a greater work-life stability, and employers could think about providing it to draw new expertise or retain present 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 worokay (only one type of versatile work, but additionally a standard one) vastly outstrips the provision of distant work roles.
Distant work is especially standard because it affords employees the selection to dwell wherever they select, with out limiting their profession prospects. Distant employees use it to spend extra time with their household as a substitute of commuting, dwell nearer to kin, or travelling to totally different nations 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 accessible to them, together with expert employees dwelling abroad. Firms can construct worldwide work groups as a primary step to coming into new markets or supply round the clock providers to clients in several time zones.
Our personal analysis on the subject, the 2023 Distant Workforce Report, highlighted a number of benefits supplied by distant work. Primarily based 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% said it was simpler to rent and retain expertise with a distant workforce. Moreover, 72% of employers with a world distant workforce mentioned that productiveness had elevated – this challenges the widespread 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. Nevertheless it will also be a aggressive benefit: with increasingly employees searching for versatile work preparations, providing employees this flexibility may also help entice expertise away from rivals.
Given this context, ought to we view the versatile working invoice as a significant step ahead? Not essentially.
A missed alternative
The reality is the legislative adjustments within the Act will not be sufficient to have an actual influence on employees. The Act is merely tweaking an present 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 concerning versatile preparations, not to mention two months).
A key drawback is that the Act nonetheless in the end offers employers the fitting 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 staff all make versatile working requests, as every request will have to 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 employees. It’s significantly troublesome within the Netherlands for employers to reject a versatile work request, whereas employees in Finland have the fitting to begin or end their work three hours earlier or later than their core working hours and most staff can select the place and after they work for a minimum of 50% of their working hours.
So whereas the Versatile Working Invoice is one thing of a missed alternative, all isn’t misplaced. The versatile working revolution is marching on; increasingly corporations are recognising this development and providing larger flexibility choices to their employees to be able to entice expertise and retain expert employees. It’s these forward-looking corporations which are going to race forward of the competitors.