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Quarterly Update, Ray Stanbridge, Chairman

Ray Stanbridge, Chairman of OutSec, gives his views on industry change, post Covid-19

With ‘business as usual’ at OutSec, Vanessa French MD,  got together (virtually of course) with Ray for their quarterly meeting.  During the meeting she was intrigued by his take on the ‘new norm’ and how employment law will need to change, fast.  Ray explained as follows:  

On 31 January, the first UK Covid-19 cases were confirmed in York with lock-down taking place on March 23rd.  During that period the global pandemic that ravaged China and subsequently Italy, was soon to take place here in the UK.  Two and a half months later and we are slowly emerging from our cocoons.  The summer heat can’t stop us in our tracks and with no sign of a vaccine, Covid-19 still appears to loom on the horizon.

The Inevitability of the New Norm

With this in mind, I see the sharpest immediate change to society must involve more flexible working opportunities.  The Government is already putting measures in place that will encourage less movement on public transport. The congestion charge will only serve to deprive London of much needed income as people limit their movements to their ‘home patch’.  Large office blocks, over time, will no longer have the cache associated with the status of the City & Square Mile. The glistening Docklands, a symbol of London’s modern day commercial success, hangs in the balance, alongside all the economic boom that comprised restaurants, theatres and residential parks that sprawl the outer perimeters of the City.  Times certainly, they are a-changing.

The Office for National Statistics, Opinions and Lifestyles Survey provides insight into the impact of Covid-19 on British society. The period 9 April to 20 April 2020 found that 45% of employees had worked from home at some point in the last week.  This will only have increased.  Indeed out of the ashes of dusty offices homeworking has proved very popular and, surprisingly, highly productive.  You could argue that if there is nowhere to go, then the focus on work is no longer time-restricted.  No demand to pick up the kids from school, no demand for a boys’ night out or even a cinema date.  This, indeed, could be the reason for the success.  But I choose not to.

Ray went on to explain:

Finland – trusting in their people

Interestingly Finland has had flexible working embedded in its working culture for decades.  They introduced the Working Hours Act in 1996 that allowed employees to start or end their working day three hours earlier or later than the standard.  How useful would it be for the UK to spread commuter times ensuring less sardines in the tins?  How much easier for families on shifts?  All makes for sensible change, especially to meet the requirements of the ‘new norm’.

By 2011, 92% of employers in Finland were allowing employees to adapt their working hours.  They were the lead country with the most flexible working schedules in the world.  With the success of the 1996 Act Finland took one more step.  The Working Hours Act of January 2020, allows employees to decide not only their working hours but also their place of work. If an employee wants to spend six months in Spain while continuing to work for their Finnish employer from a sunny resort, that is no problem.  Additionally, the amended Act allows employees to determine how to allocate at least 50% of their working time and introduces a statutory working hours bank. This enables an employee to save additional and overtime hours.  Flexible hours, accrued time off, holiday bonuses and similar benefits are ‘banked’.  Employees can withdraw free time from the accrual later.

Finland has truly understood that people are more productive when their working schedule accommodates different demands on their lives and even personal desires.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… and twenty-three years on

Although employees in the UK have a statutory right to request flexible working, prior to Covid-19 only around 5% of its 33 million workers mainly worked from home. The UK has been slow to embrace the use of technology to provide different working opportunities for employees.  Indeed employers can justify a refusal on one of the many prescribed grounds and there is no recourse for employees other than for those with relevant protected characteristics.  Our draconian way of working has been in place for years and so it is that a shake-up is needed.  Whether the government is up to the task is another question.  However without employment law changes our economy will take longer to recover than that of other innovative thinking countries.

I hope therefore, that after the current crisis, flexible working will become the ‘new norm’ and we will see a shift in the UK’s working culture. More employees will ask for flexibility in working from home, even at the  recruitment stage, and this will force employers to consider such requests more favourably than before.  However it is up to the Government to encourage and embrace the concepts, not by force as in increasing the cost of the congestion charge but by understanding the needs and desires of the people who make up the UK economy.  The positives of such a move will be well received and with the Government’s reputation ‘on the wire’ I suggest they move fast to secure their valued votes that are fast dwindling.

Ray Stanbridge is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Ray Stanbridge has been Chairman of OutSec since 2016 and continues to actively advise on the future development of the company.  OutSec are continuously grateful to Ray for his valued assistance.

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