It feels like a last-ditch attempt to encourage staff back to the office, but according to a recent CIPD survey, one in ten companies are planning to reduce pay or benefits for home workers and 4% of businesses already have.
Reducing the pay of remote employees is an aggressive approach. Threatening pay cuts whilst we go through a cost-of-living crisis will only work to deter employees from staying put. But many businesses find themselves in a tricky situation. Office space is a costly outgoing and if there’s a long-term commitment to a large amount of space that appears to be going to waste, it seems natural to want to encourage better utilisation.
A YouGov survey reveals that over half of UK workers would quit their job if the option for remote working was removed, a desire that’s backed up by another research study highlighting how remote-job searches have skyrocketed by 790%.
At Harper James we have been operating as primarily a remote working business since 2014 and we are increasingly attracting lawyers who don’t want to return to pre-pandemic practices. Leah Horwood, our Head of talent, believes businesses should focus on having the right structure and processes in place to support remote working and enhance productivity, creativity, and collaboration.
She said ‘The firm was set up to deliver work/life balance and flexibility for staff – and this approach went against the grain of traditional law firms. Even before the pandemic ignited the work from home phenomenon, only 9% of legal vacancies in the UK offered flexible working. In our experience, trusting people and giving them the opportunity to work where and when they want creates a productive workforce.
‘Businesses risk staff feeling demotivated if their salary isn’t as high as their office-based colleagues, not to mention the problems which may arise from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, where employees with disabilities and personal commitments will be disadvantaged the most.’
Samantha Owen, a Senior Employment Solicitor at Harper James agrees: ‘In circumstances where work from home arrangements are working and employees are producing results, reducing their pay is likely to be seen as an unnecessarily punishment, and could push otherwise good employees away.’
‘The legal situation for both parties will depend on the terms and conditions of employment as set out in employees’ contracts, where the usual place of work is stipulated. That said, there must be an acknowledgement that Covid has changed things; customs and practices can impact the contractual position of employees.
‘Employees have a legal right to submit a flexible working request and if this isn’t carefully considered, employers could leave themselves open to the risk of discrimination claims.’
Looking at the bigger picture, what can employers do to maintain a happy workforce and protect their business as usual? One option is to review the terms of your lease says our Senior Commercial Property Solicitor, Paul Davies.
He tells us: ‘Even before the pandemic, businesses were looking for greater flexibility in their lease agreements. For example, some tenants were future proofing by taking on larger premises to cater for expansion and entering into sharing agreements to fill the extra space in the short term.
‘The pandemic and remote working conditions have brought this requirement into the spotlight further, with tenants looking for flexibility to expand, contract or even exit properties.
'This desire for flexibility from tenants also creates an opportunity for landlords to bounce back from the reduced rents and losses incurred by the pandemic. Those that move to more open and creative agreements rather than insisting on the use of traditional lease terms will likely enjoy better and more consistent occupancy.
Seeking advice before making any drastic decisions will likely save time and money later down the line and can help create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. Our solicitors can draw on a wealth of experience to help you find the most suitable way forward.
If you’re interested in a career with Harper James, please see our vacancies which offer a range of remote and flexible working opportunities.