All of our staff are office-based, with the exception of going out to client meetings, so we’ve all been working from home since lockdown began, with this going pretty well. We’ll probably all continue home working for the rest of the summer at least, but – now the end of lockdown is in sight – the HR team has already received a few requests from people for permanent home working, or wanting to stick with unconventional hours (ones that have been necessitated by childcare arrangements, for example). We’re certainly open to these, but it feels a bit early to say either way – what should we do?
Before the lockdown started, requests for flexible working should have been considered individually. It is a legal requirement that you consider each on its own merits and respond with full reasons in the event that you decline it. Nothing has altered with this requirement except that Covid-19 has occurred and some employers have realised that flexible working and home working may have business and individual advantages.
Your plan to continue current arrangements for the rest of the summer sounds good – though you may also, if your bosses are so minded, survey your workforce to garner information about the benefits and disadvantages of home working and flexible arrangements. At the same time, you could develop a management plan to work out how you might operate without the need for an office-attended workforce.
The response to the pandemic was done in a hurry and you should not automatically assume these arrangements will wholly sustain you over a more permanent period. But they do have the basis of a different type of working worthy of exploration. There is nothing to stop you trialling such a pilot when you go back as long as you ensure that, contractually, you cover yourself to reinstate former arrangements should the pilot prove unsuccessful or unsustainable.