It’s more than two years since the start of the pandemic, when millions of us were forced to work from home. Since then, some companies have opted for hybrid working – working from home and the office – while others have gone fully remote.
But what does the future hold? If Twitter is anything to go by, workers may have more power than they think.
When Elon Musk took over the company he told staff that they were expected to be in the office for at least 40 hours a week, according to Bloomberg. The CEO of Tesla shared his view of working from home, saying: “All the Covid stay-at-home stuff has tricked people into thinking that you don’t actually need to work hard. Rude awakening inbound!”
But it seems his mandate may have backfired. As of Thursday (November 18), Twitter staff were told that the company’s office buildings would be closed temporarily, effective immediately. It comes after reports that a high number of staff were quitting after Musk told them sign up for “long hours at high intensity” or leave.
“Please continue to comply with company policy by refraining from discussing confidential company information on social media, with the press or elsewhere,” part of the message read, according to the BBC.
Before Twitter was taken over by Musk, the company agreed to allow staff to work from home permanently when the pandemic hit. Others companies followed suit, allowing employees greater flexibility in their day, not to mention where they live.
There’s clearly still a lot of chaos to unpack at Twitter, though it’s prompted some of us to reflect on our current working situations.
The working from home discussion is an ongoing one, but where is it headed? Is it really necessary to work from an office? Or have we all become too comfortable working from the living room?
Employees certainly want hybrid to stay – 15% of businesses are already receiving increased requests to work from anywhere, Totaljobs reported. Meanwhile 15% are getting questions about four-day working weeks,
More than a quarter (26%) of businesses have reported an increase in questions regarding flexible working at interview stage. UK workers increasingly expect flexibility as a given, with some going so far as to say they’d be more likely to continue working for their employer if they were able to work overseas as part of their current job
But how do you companies actually feel about hybrid working?
Around 16% of companies have improved flexible working options in order to retain staff aged over 50, according to Totaljobs. And only 12% of companies citied “managing flexible working patters” as one of the major challenges facing businesses in Q3 2022, suggesting most are getting used to the idea). Instead, cost of living (55%) and retaining staff (26%) were the principal concerns.
How much you earn is likely to have an impact on whether you WFH for good though. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows those on lower salaries are still much more likely to travel to work.
As we look towards 2023, some companies are changing the rules around working from home, so what our rights?
What are our rights about working from home?
“There is no automatic right in law to work from home,” Victoria Schofield, a Solicitor from Slater and Gordon says.
“This can be varied by the employment contract between the parties. For instance, some employees may have had their contracts varied during the pandemic, to say that their place of work is their home address.
“However, unless there is a contractual right to work from home, then the place of work will be contained in the contract of employment, and yes, the employer can demand the employee work from the office, if that is their contractual place of work. An employee’s refusal to comply with this request would be likely to be considered a disciplinary offence.”
If the employee has their home as their place of work, their main terms and conditions will be governed by their contract. “The right to work from home does not imply a greater degree of flexibility in how and when the work is carried out, although of course this is often the reality in practice,” says Schofield.
“The employer is still responsible for maintaining its general duties towards the employees who do work from home, e.g. in respect of ensuring a safe system of work by making sure employees who work from home do not suffer undue stress from isolation or lack of rest periods.”
If an employer won’t allow people to work from home under any circumstance, this could indirectly discriminate against those with caring responsibilities or those with disabilities.
“That is, the policy could put a greater proportion of those with disabilities or caring responsibilities at a disadvantage compared to those who do not have such characteristics,” Schofield says.
“It is open to an employee with 26 weeks’ service to make a request for flexible working where this might include some time working from home. A refusal might be indirectly discriminatory.”