Steve Herbert, Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, considers the implications of flexible working ‘as a default’

Steve Herbert said, “Much has been made of the Conservative party 2019 manifesto commitment towards making flexible working the “default” for employment.  Yet flexible working is a far wider animal than just working at home – and in pre-pandemic world the commitment was almost certainly intended to encompass changes in working patterns and hours to support employees as they balance home and work commitments as much as (or more than) a change to home-working locations. Nevertheless it is clear that after 16 months of home working many (predominately office based) employees feel that they have demonstrated that they can indeed be trusted to work from home and remain as productive – or even more productive – as they were in their pre-pandemic jobs and locations.  Indeed a CIPD survey published in September last year found that 81% of employees expect to work from home at least 1 day a week post-lockdown. 

 Employers recognise the benefits of this approach too.  The same survey identified that 70% of employers were intending to expand or introduce working from home.  And official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in the last few weeks suggest that employers see the benefits of reduced overheads, increased productivity, wider recruitment reach and – importantly – both reduced sickness levels and improved employee wellbeing too.

 “Yet home working does bring new challenges for employers – one of which is how you identify and/or support employees who are struggling with their physical, mental, or financial wellbeing.  The key here is to ensure that suitable support is available wherever the employee may be based.  It follows that the trend towards digital and remotely accessible tools seen prior to the pandemic will continue and accelerate, and employers should seek to ensure that all their benefits support workers wherever they may be based.

 “The other key component of the debate is ensuring that benefits provided are equally attractive to home and location-based workers.  Providing benefits with a “geographical” bias (for instance free membership of a gym situated next to the employer’s head-office) might be a nice perk for those based there, but conversely could be seen as a disincentive for those that are not able to use it.  So the provision of flexible benefits will help ensure that all workers can see the value of their benefits package wherever they may be working from.”