Claire McCartney: Are employers right to recall employees back to the office?


Flexibility around time, scheduling and place of work can be transformative in opening up opportunities for people to get into and stay in work, especially those who have health conditions, caring responsibilities, or other life choices they want to make. With an aging population, and rising levels of economically inactive people due to ill health, flexible working is more important than ever, and has been shown to support better wellbeing, making it good for individuals as well as organisations.

The flexible working legislation changes, which came into effect in April, enable employees the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. The legislative changes are likely to put more of a spotlight on different types of flexible working across sectors and roles and discussions on what can work for organisations and individuals.

When it comes to the question of hybrid working and whether employers are right to recall employees back into the office, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and it is important to have a clear and evidence-based rationale for the specific approach taken. For example, it makes good business sense for employees or teams to be together on certain specific days, rather than demanding employees come in every day because of a lack of trust. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report, Flexible and hybrid working practices in 2023, published in May 2023, suggests that organisations engaged in hybrid working typically rate the performance of employees working from home positively. They also recognise the key benefits such as attraction and retention, employee satisfaction and business flexibility. However, some business leaders have expressed concerns that the shift to much more home and hybrid working is leading to a loss of connection to organisation purpose and the culture of the organisation.

Employers should be seeking to find a balance, where work meets the needs of employees without compromising the needs of the business. It is in employers’ interests to understand what people want and try to find a solution that works for all. For example, to have specific days when people are in the workplace to help with team management, development, and collaborative working but still empowering people to work from home or remotely as needed. It is not necessarily one or the other, and hybrid is a good way of reaping the benefits of both remote and in-person work. More broadly, organisations need to be thinking more creatively about different forms of flexible working including options for the high proportion of employees that are in non-office or front-line roles.

Claire McCartney is senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.