The time is ripe for the government to capitalise on the shift to flexible and remote work through strategic policy initiatives. The government can implement policies that enshrine mandatory flexible work policies and incentivize organisations to create permanent remote work options.
Rather than the current legislation that puts the onus on individual employees to break ranks to request flexible work arrangements from their employers, the government should enact new legislation that positions flexible hours as the norm in office work, and fixed hours as the exception. For example, a policy that prohibits employers from mandating a 9 to 5 work day. Employees would then be empowered with the freedom to fulfill their job responsibilities as they best fit into the many other facets of their lives. In addition, the government could reward employers that hire remote workers through tax benefits or hiring subsidies. In this manner, the UK would benefit form the plethora of advantages tied to a more equitably dispersed labour force and population – decentralisation of capital and economic stimulus and greater wealth distribution across communities, less carbon emissions tied to commuting, greater proportion of the population in the workforce, higher productivity, etc.
In implementing these innovative policies, the UK government would thus be recognising the complexities of modern work and modern families and uplifting the many members of the labour force that routinely struggle to balance other responsibilities with the narrow demands of the conventional work day, while at the same time enabling them to improve their quality of life. A flexible work policy would essentially end the limiting conception of work as 40 hours per week between the hours of 9 to 5 and instead advocate for an emphasis on work quality and fulfillment of responsibilities, rather than work measured through arbitrary time-keeping. On the other hand, remote work would enlarge the candidate pool for employers, increase their productivity due to higher employee satisfaction, improve their capital efficiency through savings on rent, and have net positive environmental and economic effects.
Because COVID-19 has already obligated employers to temporarily make many of these changes, the time is ripe for the UK government to enshrine them, or risk capitalising on the progress already made. Moving forward with implementing a nation-wide flexible work policy and remote work incentives for employers would position the UK as the leading change-maker in the already-shifting landscape defining the new rules of accessible and humane work, as well as the leader in recognising the social and economic benefits attached to prioritising employee well-being. The time to act is now.