The global experience
In early July of this year, the Dutch parliament approved legislation to establish home working as a legal right, setting the Netherlands up to be one of the first countries to put this flexibility in law. They are currently waiting for approval from the Senate before working from home (WFH) can be fully established as a legal right. If approved, this law will require all Dutch employers to consider employee requests to work from home, as long as their professions allow it. In many countries— New Zealand included—employers can deny any request from workers about working from home without giving any reason. Under the new law in the Netherlands, employers must properly consider requests and give adequate reasons for refusing them. In Spain, a September 2020 law protects people’s rights to work remotely if they want to, while a November 2021 law in Portugal attempts to regulate remote working, by mandating that employers cannot contact employees outside of contracted working hours.
Accelerated by COVID-19, there are many examples of nations now working to put flexible, hybrid and remote working into a legal framework. Back on home turf here in New Zealand, employees are required to negotiate any remote work terms with their employer, and employers can still decide to mandate a return to office for employees, if they “have a good business reason for doing so”. As we have seen over the last two years, the pandemic has created a tremendous shift in attitudes towards work, and where work ‘should’ or can be done. Many employees are hoping to maintain some of the flexibility that they experienced over the last couple of years, and employers are gravitating towards making some form of hybrid work the ‘new normal’.
A return to the office?
However, the topic of flexible work has also become increasingly polarising for some companies as employees request to keep the status quo and maintain the flexibility they have got used to. You’ve probably heard about the situation at Tesla, which ast month issued an ultimatum for staff to return to the office — or leave the business. However, other companies, including big names such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are taking a more nuanced approach, with the latter announcing that they want employees in the office at least three days a week, therefore providing a hybrid work environment.
While in the Netherlands, this decision is taken out of the hands of employers, that will not be the case everywhere. Organisations should think and plan carefully to determine what work arrangements will foster the community and environment they need to succeed. As we know, flexible working comes in many shapes and sizes.
The many forms of flexibility
Organisations have a number of options they can consider, depending on the industry and role, including:
- WFH full time, which opens up opportunities to hire employees internationally as well as domestically
- Hybrid work environment, i.e splitting the work week between home and the office or work site
- Return to the office full-time
- Four-day work week
We are hearing more and more that a hybrid environment is a pragmatic and useful solution. Hybrid arrangements allow employees to get the benefits of remote work on some days, while encouraging the face-time, collaboration, and innovation often associated with impromptu interactions on other days. It’s important to remember that it’s not one size fits all and what works well for one company, may not work well for others. There are various factors that need to be considered when making the flexible working decision, some of which are company culture, the nature of work undertaken, available resources, etc to name a few.
A local hybrid example
In New Zealand, 2degrees is transitioning to a hybrid model, offering free parking, wellness events, guest speakers and social activities to entice employees to the return to the office. They conducted surveys which revealed a mix of feelings about returning, from those who couldn't wait to get back, to others who had found home isolation tough. This was a fairly common theme: "What we actually have seen is that a lot of people had thought they dreamed of working from home and actually they hate it, because they like being with people, they like workplace culture. They might now want that hybrid style people talk about" says Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Arcus.
It’s important to assess individual and team needs across all areas of your business and establish a flexible working programme that meets the needs of your people, your business and your clients or customers.
Four day work week trial – what’s happening & where
You are probably familiar with this now-famous Kiwi example of flexible working, that was publicised around the world. Perpetual Guardian implemented the four-day week back in 2018, with staff paid the same amount for working fewer days, after a six-week trial found productivity had improved by 20 percent. The CEO Andrew Barnes is excited about the hybrid "tipping point" New Zealand businesses are currently at, and wants bosses to think long and hard before demanding everyone trudge back to the office five days a week. "We have educated our people for two years that we can do things differently, that they can be productive at home and use their time well," Barnes says.
For some companies, implementing flexible working means they are able to reduce the physical office space and it’s a cost-saver that means they can invest more money in people and satellite offices around New Zealand or even internationally. Data released from Colliers shows a clear rise in office vacancy rates since the start of the pandemic. New figures show Auckland CBD's office vacancy rate increased from 4.7 per cent in December 2019 to 10.9 per cent in December 2021.
Covid-19 forced businesses to react and adapt to alternative ways of working at scale and pace. It has now provided an opportunity for many companies to rethink how we might use the benefits of flexible working in a new post-pandemic world. So whether your business is looking to make flexible working arrangements permanent, your industry and job profiles require staff to be in the office full-time or your business is considering a hybrid or four day work week, what we do know—and what you need to take into consideration—a significant number of talented job-seekers are now looking for roles with formalised flexibility. If an organisation isn’t offering employees what they want, those people may well move on and look for an organisation that will. Companies need to recognise that everyone is different, and what flexibility looks like to me is different than what flexibility looks like to you. It highlights the importance of ensuring diverse perspectives are heard in places of decision making, along with the business needs.
Keen to talk more? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of flexible working, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us on +64 9 3007224
NOVEMBER 2022 UPDATE
Flexible working continues to be a big topic, and in demand by workers. Below you'll find links to two interesting cases, one here in Aotearoa, and one in the UK: