Expert insight into the workforce of the future and how best employers can navigate the associated legal and management issues has been shared by Royds Withy King and practical futurist Andrew Grill.
This week the firm's Swindon-based employment partner, Malcolm Gregory, joined the former IBM global managing partner to deliver a webinar exploring the transformation of the workplace since the coronavirus pandemic and how this will play going forward as businesses take tentative steps back into the workplace.
Launching the event, Andrew said: “The last six months has accelerated all sorts of things. At the start of the year, the notion that we would be working from home with no one blinking an eyelid was five years away and now we’re all doing it.
“Basically, we have been involved with a worldwide experiment of work from home. One thing I’ve told people is we must never go back to the way things were. But as we consider going back into the office, and we won’t go back to the old way, there are a whole load of legal issues around that.”
Malcolm suggested the following practical steps for employers to support their teams back into the workplace:
- Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. Take your time with gradual returns to work to test health and safety measures in practice
- Ensure you have communicated your risk assessments and the health and safety measures you have put in place so employees feel comfortable about returning to the workplace
- Finally; don’t allow things to drift, remote working was an immediate and temporary response to the pandemic. The longer employees are working from home they can argue that their contractual terms have changed
For organisations considering the use of co-working options, or a ‘third place’ that is part way between home and the office, Malcolm reminded employers that the legal issues are the same as for staff working remotely at home:
- Healthy and safety assessments need to be done
- Employers and employees need to be mindful of GDPR obligations
- Virtual private networks (VPNs) should be used to secure data
However, it is clear there are some real benefits to third places:
- Takes away the intrusion of working from home
- Re-orientates a sense of community with employees and the organisation
- Allows for collaboration with co-workers
- Avoids a lengthy commute in the office
- Organisations can benefit from the flexibility to increase or decrease their space and the length of lease terms, depending upon the business’ success and evolving need
Malcolm explained that employers can decline requests from staff to work from home permanently: “It’s not enough for an employee to say ‘I’ve shown you it can work, therefore I demand it’. There has to be a balance with the operational requirements of the business.”
However, he also warned that in future staff will want to work for companies which provide flexibility.
“Employers planning for post-Covid, over the next 18 months, may say to their staff ‘we need you back in the office, as we’ve lost our social cohesion and your contract says you need to be in the office," he said.
"The issue is that good people will decide to leave because they are not working for an employer of choice. That’s what will make a cultural change over time. Telling people they can’t work from home creates an imperceptible change to the culture which builds over time which can be damaging to the business. An open dialogue is a better approach.
“So employer branding, being open to these ideas, and listening and communicating carefully is the key to this.”
The webinar covered many other areas, such as the move decades ago by Finland to embrace flexible and agile working as a nation as well as the emerging concept of the Gig Executive.
The full webinar is available to view at www.roydswithyking.com/ahead-of-the-curve-magazine/workforce-of-the-future-webinar/