Posted by Sarah Cooper-Gadd, senior legal advisor at Legal Futures Associate Allianz
September marked 18 months since the Covid-19 pandemic brought us and the rest of the world to its knees. But a year and a half on, the instruction to ‘stay at home’ seems a distant memory.
No longer are there queues snaking their way around supermarket car parks. Rule of six, no more. Things are starting to resemble some form of normality – albeit with some unavoidable changes.
There are much stricter precautions when it comes to travel. Face coverings are still a ‘must have’ addition to many people’s outfit, and table service continues to be an option in some pubs and bars. But one change has been truly embraced: home working.
Only 5% of the working population considered ‘home’ to be their main office before the pandemic, with 70% of workers having no prior experience of working from home.
Since the outbreak, 37% reported to have done some work from home, a 10% increase on the previous year, following the government’s guidance to work from home where possible.
One in four businesses intend to use increased homeworking going forward. With many businesses adapting to a hybrid model, there will be fewer employees in offices on any given day.
Arguably, a reduced commute could lead to a better work/life balance for many, but will this ultimately lead to issues for employees and their employer?
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that, between 2012 and 2017, employees who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other workers.
Also, people who mainly worked from home were around 38% less likely to have received a bonus compared with those who never worked from home.
This seems unfair, given research has found those working from home are 13% more productive than their office-based counterparts. Regardless of performance, office presence can lead to reward as the manager can see an employee’s struggle, not just their output.
With women and disabled people more likely to work from home, the discrepancies in promotions and bonuses have led to discrimination claims. Higher levels of homeworking augment the risk of discrimination claims from employees who feel they’re missing out.
If they want to avoid that, businesses – including law firms – need to act responsibly. It’s crucial that organisations don’t quantify ‘time in office’ as a level of commitment to the job.
There are three key considerations for businesses utilising a hybrid way of working:
- Ensure those working from home are included in meetings and key decisions;
- Consider all employees and use performance reviews/appraisals when determining bonus awards and promotions; and
- Ensure home workers have the same access to training and support as their office-based counterparts.
On the other side, could the switch in attitude towards working from home actually lead to a fall in such claims?
The research highlighting promotion and bonus discrepancies was carried out in a pre-pandemic world. With a hybrid model becoming more accepted, a number of large organisations have confirmed they will continue to allow employees to work from home, at least part time.
Big Four firm Deloitte advised its 20,000 UK staff that they would not be required to work a minimum amount of days in the office, highlighting how much attitudes have changed on the topic.
This trend could actually blur the lines between home and office working, making it harder to determine a pattern of homeworkers being overlooked in favour of their office counterparts.
Also, bosses are less likely to be seeing the same faces every day, either because the employee isn’t in, or they themselves are in their home office. Therefore, the working relationships which would normally form from face-to-face meetings and catch-ups in the staff kitchen will be less probable.
Finally, previous imbalances between men and women who work from home are likely to even out. Although initial polling suggests that more mothers are looking to work from home at least one day a week (69%) than fathers (56%), it’s important to note that this research has been conducted off the back of a prolonged period of restrictions.
The novelty of the office could fade and attitudes may change to reflect a more even split. If this gender gap closes, it becomes another reason for bosses to make promotion and bonus decisions based on merit, rather than employees’ office attendance, which could ultimately see a reduction in the level of sex discrimination claims.
With 85% of workers wanting to use a hybrid model, according to the ONS, it could level the playing field between those who were predominantly in the office before, and those who weren’t.
It will take time to see what consequences will arise from this new working model. However, it may be a miscalculation to assume that an increase in homeworking will inevitably lead to an increase in claims.
Given the statistics, this would be a wise pre-pandemic assumption – but a lot has changed in 18 months and this could be another one to add to the list.