A warning to employers – the flip side to home working

Monday 19th July 2021

In the aftermath of the pandemic many workplaces are looking to adopt a more flexible approach to working. Working from home has become more common over the last 18 months and we are seeing more and more queries about flexible or hybrid working.

On the face of it, a move to flexible working is a progressive step to address the work-life balance of employees and there are undeniable benefits for employees. However, if you are looking to implement flexible working there are some important considerations to bear in mind to ensure that the move is not unintentionally detrimental or discriminatory.

Who will use it?

When deciding to introduce a flexible working policy you should consider which of your staff are most likely to make use of it.

Women are more likely than men to bear the bulk of childcare responsibilities. As such, women are also more likely to request to work from home to allow them to more easily manage childcare commitments alongside work.

Employees with disabilities, who suffer with health conditions, or those who are older may be equally likely to request flexible working, preferring to work instead from their own home.

As such, those most likely to elect to work from home are those often underrepresented in the workplace already.

How could working from home be detrimental?

A recent ONS study concluded that over the last 10 years, employees who worked from home were overlooked when being considered for promotion as a result of less face to face interaction with their colleagues and managers. Homeworkers were also around 40% less likely to receive training or education relating to their job.

This trend is likely to continue once things return to ‘normal’. If other employees return to the office full time, those spending more time at home could miss out on the opportunity to build strong relationships with their colleagues and managers which could cause them to feel less connected to their team and lead to their exclusion from important discussions and opportunities.

There is a real risk that employees who frequently work from home could be forgotten or left out simply because they are not immediately visible. This could result in missed opportunities for learning, not being considered for promotion, and could ultimately be detrimental to their career progression through no fault of their own.

If the majority of home workers are women with childcare responsibilities, disabled or older employees, there is risk of perpetuating inequality and discrimination by continuing these trends.

What can employers do?

Address the disparity:

  • Employees at all levels should be encouraged to take part in flexible working. From directors and senior managers all the way down to entry-level staff, regardless of gender, age, disability or childcare responsibilities to ensure that it is not only female, disabled or older employees who take part.
  • Be aware of who is requesting to work from home and monitor the situation to ensure that uptake is consistent across the company
  • Employees should be reassured that a request for flexible working will not be viewed negatively and is encouraged– some employees who do not ‘need’ to work from home may be hesitant to request it for fear of it being viewed as a lack of commitment.
  • Seek advice on whether any proposed policy could cause or increase any disparity or be discriminatory.

Address communication issues:

  • Steps should be taken to ensure communication with employees working from home is consistent. Many teams used daily or weekly video calls during lockdown, these could be continued to ensure employees working remotely are still included in discussions.
  • You could implement more frequent reviews to ensure that the achievements of those working from home are not overlooked or forgotten.
  • You should create learning opportunities for staff members working remotely e.g. online learning.
  • A training log could be kept and regularly reviewed to help maintain a consistent level of training and to ensure remote workers are not left behind.

As with all such policies, it’s essential to monitor their effects and implementation and to regularly review them. Effective communication with staff will be critical in terms of honest feedback to address any concerns as well as recording the positives.

If you would like to discuss this further, then please contact one of our employment experts below. To view the full July Employment Law Update, click here: