Employees in the UK will soon have more control over how, when and where they perform their jobs thanks to the new Flexible Working Bill. As a result, the UK may earn a spot as one of the best places to work in the world. Kevin Hollinrake, the Minister for Small Business, expressed support for the bill and its ability to grant more flexibility to today’s employees.
The law could revolutionize work for many Brits, and it follows The Netherlands, which already legally supports flexible work as a right. Government leaders in the UK and The Netherlands recognize the plethora of benefits in continuing to push for flexible work, including increasing talent pools and improving inclusivity for individuals with disabilities, working parents and others.
However, despite documented benefits, not everyone is convinced. In the US, a reverse of work-from-home policies and return-to-the-office mandates saw 49% of workers return to five days a week in person. This development was despite 68% of Americans stating they prefer to work from home and 97% favoring either remote or hybrid arrangements. For companies investing more in inclusion, work-from-home options are more than just a preference; they’re also a potential accessibility solution.
With clear benefits, but contradictory beliefs at play worldwide, how should your company respond? What should you know about the UK’s latest legislation and stance?
What does the Flexible Working Bill change?
Currently, an employee must work for 26 weeks before they can make a request for flexible work arrangements. If it passes, the new law would give employees the right to make such requests on their first day of employment.
Also, instead of being limited to one request per 12-month period, the bill would allow two requests per year. Employers will need to respond to those requests within two months, rather than three, as the law states now.
Finally, the bill also removes the current requirement that employees explain or justify the effects of their flexible work arrangements on the employer. Instead, employers will need to consider alternative options before they reject an employee’s request.
Despite the push for more flexible arrangements, the law still gives employers the final say on a person’s work location or schedule by requiring their approval.
Proven benefits of supporting flexible work in a post-pandemic world
When employees have more control over their schedules and where they work, they can achieve a better work-life balance, reduce the stress or costs of childcare and more. According to the bill’s proponents, flexibility leads to happier and more productive employees. Employees appear to agree, with one survey finding that 88% prefer more flexible jobs, even if they have lower salaries, compared with higher-paying, less flexible positions.
Companies themselves also benefit from providing more flexibility. Work-from-home arrangements allow employers to hire people who live too far to commute to their location, extending their talent pool. Improved productivity is another proven benefit as work-from-home employees don’t face in-office distractions. Also, researchers found that 40% of employees work longer hours when they’re remote, for an average of 193 hours more work hours per year. At the same time, 75% of employees felt that remote work, even with the extra hours, gave them more work-life balance.
Flexible work is already a legal right in The Netherlands
Interestingly, the Netherlands supported many work-from-home arrangements prior to the pandemic, with 14.1% of their population already working remotely. At that time, just 4.7% of those in the UK held remote positions, while even fewer people were working from home in the US. The Dutch were early in identifying the positive effects of offering employees more control over how they perform their jobs.
The Netherlands has since passed a law that makes working from home a legal right, with some exceptions. Under the law, employers must allow their team members the right to work from home if they request it when there isn’t a compelling reason to deny that request. For example, if an employee performs most of their tasks online and can work efficiently with meetings on Zoom, they may have the legal right to choose to work from home.
Naturally, there are jobs that can’t be performed remotely, but for many office jobs, the law gives employees strong legal backing to push for flexible arrangements.
The US’s pullback from flexible work has hit a wall
This year, about 30% of roles in the US are still remote. At the same time, some companies are trying desperately to lure their employees back in person. Google, for instance, offered a “summer discount” on hotel rooms at its Mountain View campus as part of its effort to get people back in offices. However, the $99-a-night offer, which amounts to about $3,000 a month, was mocked by many employees.
While some companies will certainly resist, it’s becoming clear that remote work in the US is here to stay, even without the same legislative support seen in the UK and the Netherlands. The continued ability to have flexible work arrangements is about more than a preference for many, though. It might even be the key to securing employment. Flexible arrangements also help companies offer a truly inclusive environment, which is increasingly important to leaders in today’s climate.
Supporting employment for many, including people with disabilities
Flexible work is helping people with disabilities find jobs. According to a recent report published by Disability:IN, employment rates for people with disabilities recovered faster from the pandemic in the US than the national average. The report credits flexible work for this outcome.
As a result, while return-to-the-office mandates are ramping up in some places, others are cautioning against such strict workplace policies. For some employees with disabilities, working from home opened new opportunities that the mandates could take away.
Fortunately, for employees with disabilities in the UK, working from home might be a reasonable adjustment under the UK Equality Act. If working remotely allows team members to work more effectively or avoid commuting challenges related to their mobility, it could be difficult for the employer to legally deny their requests. Similarly, in the US, employees might argue for flexible work arrangements as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Verbit’s captioning and transcription tools are already supporting some of the workplace accommodations necessary to allow remote work and communication to continue seamlessly. In the case of remote workers with disabilities, embedding accessibility technologies like Verbit’s into the process is a must for them to be able to join Zoom calls and attend virtual events with equity.
Providing effective and more flexible remote work opportunities
Individuals with and without specific accommodations are finding great benefits in continuing to work remotely. Regardless of the upcoming UK bill’s passage and the legal requirements in your country, providing greater flexibility and tools that fuel productive, remote work makes for happier employees and a more diverse workforce. Individuals with disabilities are more likely to find opportunities that don’t require them to be in the office five days a week.
Providing productive virtual and hybrid workplace environments doesn’t need to feel complicated. Verbit’s team is already working with companies globally to meet the accessibility requirements for an effective remote, on-the-go workforce. Learn how our solutions, like captioning and transcription, are providing equity to remote employees with disabilities while driving better work experiences and communication for teams working flexibly.