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07.04.2021

Flexible work practices to increase post-pandemic

By Fiona Kelleher

Recent employment law changes mean the development of a flexible working policy will be a priority for businesses this year.

The Government’s National Remote Work Strategy contains two key commitments. The first was delivered on April 1st when the Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect came into effect.

The second is a legal right for employees to request remote work. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is seeking submissions from both employers and employees until May 7th with legislation on this new right expected to be in place by September.

At European level, the EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers was adopted in 2019. Ireland has three years to introduce legislation that provides employees with a right to make a request for flexible working arrangements. There will be no obligation on employers to grant the request provided there must be objective justification for refusing the request.

The recent extension of parent’s leave to five weeks along with the extension of parental leave entitlements to twenty-six weeks also widens the range of family-friendly options that staff can avail of.

Finally, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reported in 2019 that nearly 20% of the workforce is now aged 55 or over. The economic forecasters predict that there could be a spike in flexible working arrangements to allow this older cohort of employees to extend their working lives.

What is flexible working?

Flexible work is a term used to describe a work pattern that does not conform to the nine-to-five workweek consisting of a set number of hours, five days per week. Flexible work arrangements include the following practices:

  • working remotely/from home
  • compressing work hours into fewer days
  • varying start and finish times (flexitime), and
  • the more traditional part-time work.

What are the benefits of introducing flexible work patterns?  

Some of the key benefits associated with flexible work include increased productivity, happier employees, and improved retention rates. As the pandemic recedes and businesses begin to rebuild, it is likely that more businesses will need to offer flexible work to attract and retain talented employees.

What challenges will businesses face in implementing flexible work patterns?

Business owners and managers will be keen to know that productivity levels won’t decrease if staff move to working remotely or to a more flexible schedule. One notable feature of the pandemic is that it triggered a large-scale experiment in flexible working. This means many organisations will have already identified the measures they need to put in place to ensure that a new flexible work model can satisfy business demands.

On the other side of the coin, many employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic have reported difficulties switching off from work. The new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect provides clear guidance on how businesses should manage this risk.

Has COVID-19 eliminated the traditional office model?

Even before COVID-19, advancing technology and mobile communications devices have been disrupting the traditional office model. Flexible work is not feasible in many workplaces but it’s clear that a large number of employees will be seeking to continue working from home for at least part of the week post-pandemic. With employees also set to receive a right to request remote work later this year, now is the time to prepare your business for a more flexible future.

Need our help handling flexible work?

For advice on any HR issue, such as how flexible work affects your business, speak to an expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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