Covid-19 has accelerated several workplace trends as well as exacerbating many existing inequalities.
One of those trends is, of course, the move towards more flexible working, something many workers have been asked for for several years. Before Covid, legislation was being mooted to make flexible working a day one right and there was much talk about it being the default. Since Covid, large numbers of workers have been asked to work from home. Clearly, that has not suited everyone. Moreover, many have not been able to benefit.
Although some employers have said that they anticipate moving to permanent working from home, they are in a minority. Most expect to eventually return to the office or envisage some sort of hybrid scenario. The hybrid scenario seems very popular, both with employers and employees, giving people the best of both worlds and addressing some of the challenges of either way of working. The challenge is to make it work in terms of desk space needed at any given time in the middle of a pandemic. The good news is that many employers have already moved to an agile model and have already wrestled with some of the challenges, albeit not with the added Covid safety issues.
Neverthless, some factors are outside the control of employers. They include transport to work – something that has been the subject of discussion among agile and part-time workers for many years. Over the weekend there has been more talk about flexible season tickets following trials launched at the start of the year by LNER and Govia Thameslink.
It was reported at the weekend that the Government is soon to announce new types of ticketing, including a three-day season ticket, as part of its bid to get people to return to the office. Train operators say offering part-time season tickets will leave them out of pocket, but add that it is better to have people travelling part time than not at all. It is hoped that any changes will endure under the hybrid working model. Earlier in the summer it was reported that some rail operators were looking at a carnet approach where passengers would buy a certain amount of tickets in advance and use them when they need them, as they do on the Eurostar.
For those many people who have been working part time or already alternating between remote work and office work this will come as a welcome announcement. Such announcements seem a much more constructive way of addressing likely post-Covid workplace changes than threatening remote workers with redundancy. Whether they will be enough to get people onto the trains is another thing because cost is not the main issue while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. The ability to social distance safely remains the key issue and that is harder the more people are on the trains…unless other creative ideas are rolled out. So numbers are likely to be down for some time. The issue then is encouraging enough people back while maintaining safety. That requires a collaborative, on-the-ground approach with good communication at its heart.