Presenteeism has long been associated with working life in the city, viewed by many employers and employees as essential for getting known and getting ahead.
However, in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, businesses have had to cope with an abrupt move to mass remote working, in a way many never would have imagined feasible only a year ago. In many industries it has proved to be manageable. And, even before the pandemic, it was recognised that endorsing agile working was becoming a significant factor in driving forward a successful, modern business, capable of attracting and retaining top talent. So will it endure?
Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to remote working has been trust; employers simply did not trust that people working from home were actually working, that service standards could be maintained, that confidential information would remain secure. Many of these issues have been dealt with by enforcing best practices around regular communication and updating and enforcing detailed home working policies.
And so, as and when we are allowed to return to work in the city, employers can no doubt expect many more employees to exercise their statutory right to request flexible working. Refusals are likely going to be much more closely scrutinised and potentially lead to formal grievances. Management and HR should be proactively planning their approach in advance.
Of course, remote working is not everyone’s preference and it has its downsides. It can be lonely and isolating, having a negative impact on employees’ mental health and workplace collaboration and diversity. In particular, junior employees can miss out on developing vital skills and a professional network.
Therefore, striking the right balance inevitably seems like the best way to future proof both businesses and individual career progression. In our view, it is not a question of if but when will we return to the city; but expect that most employees will not want to spend as much time there as they and we once did.
Caroline Philipps is a senior associate in the corporate department at Fladgate. She specialises in employment law, including both contentious/disputes and non-contentious/advisory employment law issues.