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Put People Front and Centre to Navigate Homeworking Challenges

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With the likely long-term establishment of hybrid home and office working as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, insight from new research by lawyers Harrison Clark Rickerbys (HCR) highlights the need for flexible working policies to be reviewed to support employee wellbeing.

Their research shows that the proportion of people who said that they felt homeworking had a negative effect on their wellbeing increased significantly from just 3% pre-Covid, to almost one in five (17%) during the first lockdown.

While the pandemic has firmly thrust flexible working into the spotlight, research suggests that prior to Covid-19 there was a perception gap between employers and employees; almost a third (32%) of workers said their bosses didn’t allow homeworking, while in the same survey it was a tiny proportion, just 5% of employers, who said they didn’t endorse working from home.

Lawyers at HCR, the Top 100 law firm that conducted the research, warn that this misalignment could lead to tension between employer and employee. Their findings raise concerns that some businesses may have simply paid lip service to flexible working and businesses that fail to adapt to the changes risk jeopardising employees’ mental and physical health, storing up problems for later.

Harriet Murray Jones, partner at HCR, says:

“The rapid roll out of homeworking in response to Covid-19 has had many positive impacts, but it is not without risk,”

“While 2020 necessitated the largest work-from-home-experiment, it appears that – notwithstanding the current lockdown – the model is now here to stay. This means businesses have to really look at the ways in which they can best support their teams.

“There is often a focus, with flexible working, on where the work is carried out, rather than the number of hours worked or the change in patterns of when work might be delivered. Indeed, our research revealed that almost a third (30%) of people said they worked longer hours from home in lockdown than they did pre-Covid.

“Without clear boundaries defining the rights and responsibilities of flexible working, the ‘fear of letting go’ can lead to poor decisions by employers, bad feeling and, in the most severe cases, employment tribunals. We would urge employers to take steps to improve their support for homeworkers, which should include reviewing and refreshing remote working policies to ensure they are explicit and take account of Covid-related changes in work patterns.

“Management skills and methods of measuring productivity have probably not kept pace with the rapid switch towards remote working. Supporting the development of strong management skills throughout organisations can have a transformational effect on both productivity and wellbeing. We would encourage businesses to provide help for managers to support workers remotely, including effective communication and assessing worker wellbeing.”