Britain will not see the culture of working from the office from Monday to Friday return after the Covid pandemic, the head of Boris Johnson’s flexible working task force has told The Telegraph.
Peter Cheese, the co-chairman of the task force, threw his support behind giving everyone the right to request working from home when they start new jobs.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Cheese called for more job advertisements to specifically cite the possibility of flexible working so people with family commitments could apply.
He stressed that while the pandemic has shown that working from home does not work for some individuals, moving to more flexible working setups will advantage others.
The Government task force, which was reconvened to discuss longer-term changes to working behaviours given the virus crisis, is expected to offer policy recommendations in the autumn.
There is growing debate about whether people should have more rights to work from home after millions did so during the lockdowns of the last 15 months.
According to aides, Mr Johnson is not planning to change the laws to give people a permanent right to work from home but is open to smaller changes to improve flexibility.
Critics argue that working from home decreases productivity and undercuts team bonding, but supporters say it makes it easier for people with children or elderly dependents to work.
Mr Cheese, in addition to his government role, is the chief executive of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID), the professional body for the HR profession.
Asked whether he thought the days of everyone going into the office were "effectively dead", he said: "This would be a personal reflection, but I do believe that this is a time that can signal some significant change in what after all have been very long, prevailing working traditions – you know, the Monday to Friday, nine to five routines of work which we’ve known for a century or more.
"The pandemic, as many people called it, is one of the largest experiments we’ve ever had and are ever likely to have in working in very different ways, and I think it’s taught us many things. It’s certainly taught us that it doesn’t work for everybody, so there’s not a one size fits all.
"But it has also raised a significant expectation among many people in the workforce today about, ok, there isn’t just one way to work and I would like more choice and flexibility on how I work. The pandemic has created that expectation."
Under the current rules, employees have the right to request flexible working, including changes to start or end times and location, some 26 weeks into a new jobs. It recently emerged that ministers are considering reforms that would allow people to request such changes from day one of a new job.
Should right to work from home be law
Mr Cheese, speaking in a personal capacity, made it clear that he supported the changes and noted that CPID has been pushing for such moves for years. He also said the task force, of which he is co-chairman with the business minister Paul Scully, is supportive of the idea of job adverts flagging flexible working possibilities to broaden the potential candidates pool.
He added: "As a task force we have also been saying consistently that we should have organisations being much more open and upfront about recruiting and being explicit that these jobs could be open for more flexible working.
"If you look back historically to the pre-pandemic it was a small proportion of jobs, certainly single-digit percentage, that were ever advertised as saying ‘you know what, you could work flexibly’.
"And that did preclude job opportunities – people with caring responsibilities would be the obvious example. They were looking for a job which was more flexible in its hours of work or location of work that were not seeing those job adverts.
"We want to shift that dynamic and make it much more become part of the norm of working and jobs that, where you can work flexibly, let’s say that and let’s make that much more part of the norm."
Mr Cheese also warned that cultures of "presenteeism" should change and said this would "need more training of managers to manage people and teams effectively when they are working in different ways".