As the government and the workforce struggle with decisions about venturing a return to work, it is not contested that one of the legacies of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) will be more widespread working from home.
Reactions from employers range from a grudging acceptance to a wish to embrace the moment, building on the fact that, whatever your views, the world of work has been accelerated, or disrupted. Balancing caring commitments with schools shut and with usual work/life boundaries gone overnight has raised particular challenges for working carers. Employers should be thinking now about how to build on the positives and mitigate the negatives of the new landscape.
Caring commitments to some degree fit into the existing employment law landscape, with flexible working and time off to care for dependants and so on.
However, many employers find that these measures do not fit the reality of life in the pandemic and will see benefit in going beyond the letter of law, embracing a bolder vision of an agile workforce. This will resonate with working carers.
This cannot be done overnight. A meaningful change in practice and culture would need commitment from the top down. Among the considerations will be how to protect employee wellbeing in a world of work with more blurred boundaries.
Other considerations include: identifying the benefits for the business, for example, has it increased employee productivity and engagement? If so, how is this measured?
Identifying also obstacles and challenges and ways to work around these. What does agile mean to the workforce and how will employers find out: surveys or consultation? Often, it is the small adjustments which can be the difference. How will the needs of all employees be considered, not just those of working carers?
Not everyone relishes the prospect of more time working from home. How do businesses make sure arrangements work for them or, if not, can be changed? What does good communication look like in a disparate workforce?
Employers that get on the front foot and think through its core attitude to such issues now may well reap rewards.
Esther Langdon is an employment lawyer at law firm Vedder Price