31st August 2021
In anticipation of returning to the workplace many employers now face the decision as to whether they will be able to facilitate flexible working.
Flexible working itself has been an item of discussion for a while now, but with the introduction of working remotely being added to shorter working weeks, flexible hours, job sharing, part time working and what has now become known as hybrid working, pressures are now different.
The government intends to introduce legislation giving employees the right to request remote working. This will not establish an “entitlement to remote working”, but employers will be expected to justify why they have declined a request, should an employee refer a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission. This is, in effect, creating an indirect right, as it will be up to a third party to decide if the employer has acted reasonably.
In anticipation of these changes, the following are matters which need to be considered before implementing any general remote working arrangements.
Employers must now evaluate their own operational needs and decide if flexible working, and in particular, remote working, is the way forward for their business. The last 17 months will have identified pros and cons for both employers and employees, but that was in an emergency environment. In the normal environment there will be many things to consider which we did not take account of over the last months, such as the work environment at home e.g., sitting on a bed/couch or wherever one could find, family or dependents distracting, working arrangements. Some of these would not be acceptable in an ongoing arrangement.
We believe employers should, in the first instance, return to the pre COVID working arrangements, assuming of course they are in position to provide the appropriate safe working place, allowing for social distancing, sanitisation, mask wearing and a safe workplace, and start from there.
Initially, consider whether it is appropriate to your business to adopt flexible /remote working. If so, what legal obligations arise under health and safety, employer liability insurance, protecting data, providing suitable equipment, and ensuring that good communication between workers, both office based and remote, will not be damaged.
Assuming it is possible to facilitate remote working these steps should be followed: -
Create a Remote Working Policy
Having decided on how the company wishes to approach flexible working the next step is to proceed and deal with any requests received for remote working.
We believe the key steps towards introducing remote working should include:
What has become very clear is that greater attention needs to be paid to the remote worker when it comes to their wellbeing, especially if contact with office and work colleagues is significantly reduced.
Consider the following:
When considering an application, it is important to operate in accordance with the general principles detailed in your policy. Consider the reasons why a person wants to remotely work. Remote working is not to enable people to reduce child minding costs or caring for dependents or combining working hours with other activities.
Consideration should also be given as to how a request impacts work colleagues, the flow of work, the need for informal communication between work colleagues and all things that are not achieved well by online communications, where people need to make appointments to meet/chat.
Consider the long-term effects of such an arrangement. Whether we like it or not, the longer such an arrangement is in place the more a person will see it as their permanent way of working.
What precedence will it set within the department/company, and will it be possible to extend it to all in the department/business affected, as everyone will have the right to ask.
There are probably many other points that will merit consideration, but what is clear, is that any form of flexible working, and particularly remote working, cannot just suit the employee benefitting. It must also be acceptable to co-workers, does not compromise the business and must allow for changes in the future as business demands and practices change.
Over the last 17 months many have decided this is how they would like to work going forward. Some will have decided it is not all they thought it would be. We believe this is going to be a difficult number of months ahead as we try to get to grips with a new type of working that is being forced upon all employers, so it is important this is planned carefully and managed carefully to protect the interest of the business as a whole.
For further guidance you can refer to the government guidelines on remote working: https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/Remote-Working-Checklist-for-Employers.pdf
This update is provided by the MSS HR Support Service