September 14, 2023
As LinkedIn data has shown, demand for work flexible working is high. And it outpaces the current availability of remote work offers. In the UK alone, listings for remote jobs have increased by 277 percent. Job postings for hybrid or remote positions received an increase in applications (189 percent) over in-office roles. People want to work remotely for various reasons. So they can live in their chosen home rather than in a tiny flat in London without sacrificing their career. So they can care for family – children, parents, grandparents. The demand for flexible work is driven by a desire for balance. The need has been clearly voiced – and the workforce is hungry for new modes of work. Looking at this background – the cheerful response to the passing of the bill is understandable.
With the news of its passing spreading rapidly, the excitement has drowned out the details and scope of the bill. Firstly, this is not in fact a new law but an amendment to an existing act. The Employment Rights Act 1996 has continuously evolved – the Employment Relations (Flexible Work) Bill alters and extends this act in its current form. And on this the UK government did take into account the criticism of the existing regulation and amended accordingly.
- Increased Number of Requests: Employees will have the right to make two statutory requests for flexible working within any 12-month period. This is an increase from the current law, which allows for only one request.
- Shortened Decision Timeframe: Employers will have a reduced timeframe to make a decision on these requests. Previously, they had three months, but with the new changes, they will have only two months.
- Removal of Explanation Requirement: The new act will eliminate the requirement for employees to explain the potential effect their flexible working request might have on their employer. Additionally, employees won’t have to suggest ways this effect could be addressed.
These new addendums do not widen the scope of the bill – employees are not granted the right to flexible work, instead the process for requests has been improved. Changing the formalities and removing some barriers would be great if it didn’t feel like a stalling tactic.
What’s more, there is the added administrative burden the process for requests creates for employers. Forcing them to review each individual employee’s circumstances before approving their request is an unnecessary extra workload, one which could be solved by simply applying one policy for their entire workforce. The false assumption conveyed by this legislation is that remote work is bad for business and must be carefully considered and meted out only when absolutely necessary or when circumstances leave no other option. This is not the start of the remote work revolution, it’s an appeasement.
Go or go ahead?
The modern workforce has been clear in its message: adapt or be left behind. Remote work isn’t just an evolving trend; it’s the future. Organisations resistant to this shift risk not only losing their existing talent to more progressive competitors but also face daunting challenges in attracting new talent.
Studies continuously prove the benefits that both employers and workers reap when going remote. The remote work approach allows businesses to tap into a global talent pool, fostering team diversity and enabling round-the-clock operations. A 2023 study across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America revealed compelling results: 69% of employers observed increased retention after adopting remote work, with 57% stating it’s easier to hire and retain talent. Additionally, only 17% of remote workers contemplated leaving their job, versus 24% of office-based employees. This highlights the cost savings from reduced turnover since recruiting and training can cost up to nine months of an employee’s salary.
The study also discredits a recurring narrative that remote teams are less productive. Remarkably, 72% of employers with international remote teams reported a boost in productivity. Clearer asynchronous communication, not only saves multiple work hours but is also beneficial for roles like job-sharers, which are prevalent in flexible work environments.
As these cost-saving opportunities and the long-term benefits become more and more evident, it’s easier than ever to introduce remote work. Leadership, technology, legal frameworks all have been widely discussed by experts – the leap has never been easier. Fortunately, businesses don’t need to wait for laws to catch up. By proactively embracing and institutionalising flexible working models, companies can set powerful precedents. This proactive approach not only alleviates the burden on employees seeking official work flexibility requests but can also make flexible work a standard, not an exception.
While the Flexible Working Act is a significant step, it is not the comprehensive solution many hope for. However, it does serve as a strong indicator for employers to treat adaptability not as a mere perk, but as a strategic business transformation. This shift offers operational and cost benefits and, more importantly, promotes a healthier, more efficient working environment. If nothing else, the passing of the Flexible Working Bill has once again highlighted the need for companies to adapt.
Sam Ross is General Counsel at Remote. He has a great deal of experience in financial services and technology. Sam built legal teams in two Deloitte Fast 50 digital companies. His legal areas of expertise are: corporate governance, international expansion, global employment, data privacy and regulatory.