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Planning for remote working offers an opportunity to resolve long-standing issues

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After almost two years of people working remotely from the front room, back room, box room or kitchen table, the great return to mostly offices is under way following the lifting of Covid restrictions. However, complications are already becoming evident.

For the State and employers, these complications relate to legal and procedural issues in complex areas ranging from health and safety to data protection, insurance and employment law.

Add to that long-standing employee issues, particularly around childcare, but also other lifestyle choices and concerns, and the process ahead may seem daunting.

However, just because the process is complicated does not mean it should not be embarked upon. The question nobody seriously asked before Covid is answered: remote working, in some form, is the future, and the future is now.

All that is needed is willingness and co-operation to work it out between employers and employees and for the State to play its part too.

There should be no need for remote working to become a bone of contention. If anything it should be regarded as an opportunity. For example, the issue of childcare can be resolved hand-in-hand with the process now under way. To fail to do so would be a shame.

The burden of failure would fall mostly on women. This cannot be allowed to happen. The country, the economy, and society itself benefits greatly from women who choose to be in the workplace. A comprehensive approach to the too frequently ad hoc childcare issue can now finally be put in place.

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The Government has published draft law on remote working that enshrines an employee’s right to seek to work remotely, but which also gives employers 13 grounds for refusing.

This may seem unexpectedly weighted in favour of employers, many of whom are anxious to at least establish the office as a designated place of work. That may be an employer’s starting point, but the progressive and wise among them are also aware a happy employee is a productive employee.

The question of productivity is also answered. In most cases it has soared during lockdown and under work-from-home restrictions. There are other requirements, however.

Not least the necessity of collaborative work that can often generate the spark of a new idea. Or not even that. Many employees have come to miss the social interaction that accompanies a day in the office.

These issues do not necessarily compete. In most instances they can actually co-exist. The future of work favoured by employers and employees seems to be some form of hybrid model, bespoke to each particular set of circumstances: part of the week at home, part in the office.

This, of course, means less time commuting, less traffic congesting our roads and better environmental outcomes. All that is needed now is a willingness to work it out.

The Government’s proposals are expected to be developed as they progress through the legislative process. Never will a piece of legislation be so closely scrutinised by the vast majority of the public. So, it is important for legislators to get it right. That should not mean it will take years to finalise and pass into law.

The future is now, and there are few greater priorities than the issue of the future of work. 


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