The Chancellor’s suggestion that office working should be the “default” location for employees ignores the value of remote working, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned.
Speaking at a British Chambers of Commerce conference, Jeremy Hunt suggested that working from home could negatively affect creativity. He thinks that the move away from the office prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic is now being reversed and proposed that people should return to the workplace unless there was a “good reason not to”.
However, the CIPD believes that setting a default working location shouldn’t be a priority for employers.
Ben Willmott, its head of public policy, said: “Office environments provide valuable opportunities for collaboration, learning and social interaction, but the pandemic has also demonstrated the value of remote working in fostering employee wellbeing, and work-life balance, without compromising on productivity.
“For many employers, this isn’t about setting a default but finding the right balance between office and hybrid working that supports people’s productivity and wellbeing, while meeting the needs of the business.”
Willmott highlighted that the Chancellor noted that people with caring responsibilities and mobility challenges have greatly benefitted by the shift towards more home working, and that it helps many people find and stay in employment. However, he admitted that many people will have simply preferred to work this way because it makes them more productive, reduces their commuting expenses and boosts their work-life balance.
He added: “We have the chance to re-write the rules of how, when and where we work and to roll back on the flexibility gains made in the last few years would be a huge step backwards.
“While protecting flexibility to work from home where appropriate, it’s important to recognise that many workers in frontline roles don’t have this option. As well as remote working, employers should consider a range of flexible options that can benefit all their staff, such as flexi-time, compressed and annualised hours, and job sharing.”
Marcus Beaver, UK and Ireland country leader at Alight Solutions, warns that if employers do force workers back into offices full-time, they may face an uprising. He thinks that if they want people in the workplace to breed “creativity” then offices should be revamped to foster this kind of environment.
He said: “Staff will not easily surrender the benefits they are now used to. It’s no longer important where employees work day-to-day. It’s about having the right skills to achieve the business goals, and employees have proven they can get the job done. After all, an employer’s most valuable asset is their staff.
“If they do want to bring workers back, offices will need to revamp their spaces to foster a positive culture that breeds creativity and collaboration. It’s not enough to wish them back – they must be lured back.”