Remote Working and Flexible Working Requests – Are we likely to see a rise?

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a number of practices, previously considered as nice to have, becoming the norm. As businesses responded to the lockdown, remote and flexible working practices were implemented as a necessity to continue their operations and generate revenue.

Our recent survey, asking how employers navigated the lockdown and their thoughts for the future, found that over 90% had implemented some form of remote and flexible working protocols with over 60% polled considering implementing some form of flexible working practices on a more permanent basis. As employees have shown that flexible working can make a viable alternative to the standard office arrangement will employees raise more flexible working requests as a result?

John Ioannou-Droushiotis of Focus HR believes flexible and remote working could be right for the employee and the business but is dependent on a number of factors that employers would be wise to consider. Working remotely and flexibly, while closely linked, are not always one and the same.

Remote versus Flexible Working

Remote work is a working style that allows professionals to work outside of a traditional office environment communicating with colleagues and clients via email, telephone and other web applications. Flexible working refers to working arrangements which allow employees to vary the amount, timing, or location of their work, usually to the benefit of the individual and the organisation. This could include part-time or term-time working; flexitime where employees choose start and end time within set boundaries; compressed hours; working from home on a regular basis; mobile working – permitting the employee to work all or part of their working week at a location remote from the employer’s workplace; or job sharing.

The Case for Flexible Working

Flexibility helps more people access the labour market and stay in work, manage caring responsibilities and work-life balance, and supports enhanced employee engagement and wellbeing.

There are many more advantages to considering implementing flexible working practices including:

  • Attracting talent that is of a high calibre and diverse. In a recent CIPD survey 87% of people want to work flexibly but only 11% of jobs in the UK are advertised as such. When considering that 92% of young people want to work flexibly shows that not considering it can lead to isolating a large proportion of the current and pipeline talent pool.
  • Reduced absenteeism and improved well- being with a greater work-life balance.
  • Greater employee retention by virtue of improved engagement, job satisfaction and loyalty and greater levels of productivity.
  • Creating greater operational resilience with the ability to enact business continuity plans much more efficiently when needed.

The Legislative Position in Jersey and Guernsey

Part 3A of the Employment (Jersey) Law 2003 provides employees with the right to make an application to make changes to their hours of work; their times of work or their place of work? The application must be in writing and the employer is to hold a meeting with the employee within 28 days of receiving the request and advise the employee of their decision within 6 weeks. Where the new working arrangement is agreed, it is to be documented, clearing noting the date it is to take effect form and that this now forms the employees terms and conditions. Employers may reasonably refuse an application for flexible working, on the following six grounds as provided by the law.

  1. The burden of additional costs;
  2. The employers inability in meeting customer demand;
  3. Inability to re-organise the workload among existing employees or recruit additional employees;
  4. Detrimental impact on the quality or performance of the business.
  5. Lack of work during the employee’s proposed time;
  6. Adverse effect on the employer’s planned staffing changes.

Employers are minded to ensure any such refusal is supported by a clear explanation of the reason and a business rationale as failure to reasonably consider the request or follow the appropriate procedure could result in a claim to the Jersey Employment Tribunal, who may either order the business to reconsider the request or to pay a compensation payment to the employee of up to four weeks’ pay.

While Guernsey does not have any such right enshrined in legislation, a similar approach could be adopted, tailored for the business as a matter of good practice and embedded in a policy to ensure consistency in the consideration process. This will also help when considering such requests for employees returning from maternity leave and as a means to prepare for the impending discrimination legislation protected ground of carer status.

Considerations for Employers

When faced with a flexible working request employers may wish to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Can the services provided, and the objectives of the role, be performed remotely/flexibly?
  • Will there be an adverse or positive effect on customer service?
  • Will there be an impact on the quality in the performance of the duties and productivity? Can performance management and oversight be carried out effectively?
  • Can team working, collaboration and morale be maintained? Will the team have to absorb some of the work to provide cover?
  • Does the business or department have the technological infrastructure to support it?
  • Are there any increased data protection or information security issues? Can they be mitigated? If so do the associated costs outweigh the benefits of the arrangement?

The above should always be taken into account with the employee’s specific circumstances for making the request and the length of time the arrangement will be required. They may be permanent or for a shorter temporary time period. Prior to agreeing to the arrangement employers may wish to consider a trial period to ensure that it works for everyone involved before it becomes formalised.

To ensure consistency in reviewing each request, a flexible working policy creating a procedure and standard for considering requests would be recommended.

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