Agile working: new trends
It goes without saying that the agile working landscape is entirely different to what it was pre-pandemic. The headlines tell us this is still a hot topic with some employers increasing the amount of time they are asking staff to come into the office, whereas others are finding their way with hybrid working. As ways of working have evolved, we look at some of the new trends around agile working that have emerged.
Before we begin there are some caveats: (i) we need to date stamp the discussion (post-pandemic trends can change quickly); and (ii) when we talk about “agile” working, we mean “agility” in its truest sense. Whilst we will come to discuss flexible working, “agile” and “flexible” are often used interchangeably, but with “flexible working” comes (rightly or wrongly) connotations of part-time working or more formal, individualised agreements between an employer and employee.
Where are we with the UK flexible working regime?
The current flexible working regime under the Employment Rights Act is due to change so that: (i) the right to request flexible working will become a day one right (although the government will need to bring in separate legislation for this); (ii) it will be easier for employees to make a request (they will no longer need to explain what effect the change would have on the employer); (iii) two requests can be made in any 12 month period (as opposed to just one); and (iv) employers will need to consult with the employee before refusing any request and must make a decision within two months. You can read more about the changes to the regime in our previous blog post here.
Historically, the flexible working regime has mostly been used by employees seeking to work part-time, with women more likely than men to have flexible working arrangements1 (i.e., not those who simply have a preference to work from home instead of the office). However, in the absence of separate workplace policies or practices implemented by the employer, it is still this flexible working regime that employees will need to follow if they wish to work agilely.
RTO vs WFH
From what you’ll read in the press, there is a standoff between WFH advocates and those pushing for RTO. But a lot of this is exaggerated, identifying the outliers against the demand from workers to have more choice of where they work. For example, there was a lot of press coverage about Zoom requiring staff to come into the office two days per week for those that live within 50 miles of the office. But the other, less reported, angle of this story is that staff can work remotely three days per week.
From what we are seeing, businesses are mostly settling into their hybrid working arrangements to some degree. Whilst there isn’t a “typical” hybrid pattern across the City, the conversations and problems arising from any initial tensions appear to have subsided compared to where they were in 2021 and 2022.
That isn’t to say this isn’t still a complex issue for some businesses. Where some employers have embraced hybrid or fully remote working, others are working out how to get workers back into the office for more of the working week, with examples of workforces striking over RTO mandates, and other employers going as far as to link in-person presenteeism with pay.
What are the new trends (and new terminology) in agile working?
As many workplaces settle into hybrid working, here are some of the new trends emerging with this way of working:
- ‘Workcation’: We are increasingly seeing some employers offer an opportunity for their employees to work from another location for a certain part of their year (e.g., doing their job from a holiday location). We hear that demand is strong for this and it’s a relatively new concept post-pandemic. There are, however, legal and regulatory implications to be mindful of, including setting time limits to avoid tax liabilities and immigration or visa status issues.
- ‘Quiet quitting’: Where employees put in the minimum effort to do their job but continue to work without actively seeking new employment. In June 2023, the FT reported a survey which claimed most of the world’s workers are quiet quitters!2 You can read more about quiet quitting in our previous post here.
- ‘Acting your wage’: A spin-off from quiet quitting, where employees do their jobs but nothing above and beyond their pay grade. This phrase and trend has gained more traction in light of the cost-of-living-crisis and tighter pay rises across some sectors.
- ‘NPTs’: Non-promotable tasks are those that are integral to the functioning of the workplace, particularly in hybrid working environments, but are disregarded / not considered at promotion or pay review stage, such as organising team social events, mentoring colleagues, and settling new starters. Research suggests the bulk of NPTs are carried out by women in the workplace3 and the time and resource being used on NPTs is holding back their career progression.
- The four-day working week: More employers are rolling out four-day working weeks, or at least during the summer months. In 2022, 70 companies in the UK trialled a new four-day week where employees had their working time reduced to 32 hours without a reduction in pay. 92% of employers who took part said they planned to continue a four-day working week. You can read more about the trial and some of the challenges that come with having a shorter working week in our previous blog here.
- A new aesthetic: Alongside employees professionalising their home working spaces, employers are having to rethink and reconfigure their office space to reflect hybrid working practices. Shared office spaces, often popular with younger generations of workers and start-ups, are also adapting to remain desirable, no longer prioritising space for beer taps over phone booths.
- Big Brother surveillance: There are various legal and regulatory issues to consider with how employers monitor their employees working remotely and the framework continues to evolve. Earlier this summer, a report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee4 called on the ICO to overhaul its guidance on employment practices to prevent managers using workplace software to monitor employee presence. The Committee believes monitoring should only be permissible following consultation with the workforce who consent to such use.