The past 18 months have seen huge changes to working patterns in many parts of our economy.
In offices around the country, working from home became the norm and meetings taking place on a screen replaced the hustle and bustle of crowding into a room. Even the House of Commons enabled MPs to contribute to parliamentary proceedings virtually for the first time.
For many workers and businesses, these changes are just a snapshot of how productivity, as well as balancing work and home life, can be improved.
At the 2019 General Election I was elected on a manifesto which committed to holding a consultation on the issue of flexible working. This goes far beyond working from home but also includes part-time working, compressed hours (working full-time hours over fewer days), job sharing and flexitime.
Other options include annualised hours and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement.
A further issue covered by the consultation is more informal flexibility. Not every employee will want to work flexibly, but may wish for something on an ad hoc basis such as attending a one-off appointment.
Existing legislation provides employees with 26 weeks of continuous service with the right to request flexible working. By making this a ‘day one’ right, this is expected to benefit around 2.2 million workers.
In recent months more people have returned to the office, which is to be expected after the end of Covid restrictions on 19th July. Through more flexible working our public transport system will be eased with travelling times more staggered. If some firms were to move out of their offices in town or city centres, it may allow for the development of more residential properties in the heart of our communities.
Of course, flexible working will not be possible in each and every industry. The Government is clear that firms should still be able to reject a request if there are sound business reasons for doing so, with freedom of contract being respected rather than prescribing specific arrangements in legislation.
This consultation is providing a framework to encourage conversations, and balance the needs of both employees and employers.
These proposals will help to create a more engaged and productive workforce, enabling members of staff to have more choice in their working life as we build back better from the pandemic.
More widespread flexible working will enable companies to attract more of the best talent, with 87 per cent of people wanting to work flexibly.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy consultation, entitled ‘Making flexible working the default’ is on www.gov.uk/beis in the ‘Policy papers and consultations’ section. The consultation closes on 1st December and Crawley residents are welcome to send me a copy of any submission they may send.
Henry Smith MP