A legislative agenda spreading through European courts could significantly impact property decisions for years to come. Workers are expected to be given the legal right to request flexible working, which could bring seismic changes to how companies negotiate their office spaces.
Before COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown, only around 5% of employees in the EU regularly worked from home. In some countries, that’s increased fourfold since the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum. Now a new legislative agenda is spreading through the European courts to support this changed landscape, with workers expected to be given the legal right to request flexible working. This could bring seismic changes to how companies negotiate their office spaces, significantly impacting property decisions for years to come.
A legal basis for flexibility
Proposed new legislation aims to enforce workers’ rights to flexible working. It all started in Portugal, where a new remote working law has been passed that also sees employees able to claim expenses incurred during home working and a ban on employers contacting staff outside working hours.
Several other countries look set to follow suit, with Germany among the first to introduce legislation to give workers the right to request home working. If passed, employers will have to provide a valid reason if they refuse such a request, and The Netherlands looks set to introduce similar laws.
Over in Ireland, a “Right to Request Remote Work Bill” was introduced earlier this year as part of the Government’s National Remote Working Strategy, ‘Making Remote Work’, which is aimed at ensuring that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits.
This is being developed in recognition of the challenging circumstances in which remote working originally came to the fore, with the preface to the report on the Bill stating its aims thus: “The sudden introduction of homeworking often resulted in less-than-ideal working conditions for both employers and employees. This Bill aims to provide a comprehensive framework to support different working arrangements on a more permanent basis.”
With employee expectations over flexible working also increasing across Asia, this legislation may soon become a phenomenon outside Europe, too. Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study found that “One in three employees in Asia are willing to forgo pay increases to be able to work flexibly, closely followed by well-being benefits.”
Meanwhile, nearly seven in 10 employees across Asia cite lack of remote or hybrid working as “a deal breaker when considering whether to join or stay with an organisation.” Proof that the shift to flexible working is not localised to specific regions.
Meeting new demands
With flexible working potentially becoming legal policy and not just company policy, property directors and brokers will have to think differently – not only meeting business needs, but also workers’ rights. In spearheading the hybrid revolution, IWG has seen changes happen first-hand and noticed that enterprise clients often start by listening to what their employees want. This has resulted in grassroots-led shifts in working patterns, and now the law is catching up.
With legislation now responding to the reality that hybrid is here, companies are rethinking their office footprint and paying close attention to where they need space. Key to this is acquiring the space you need only when you need it; with employees dividing their time between remote and on-site work, traditional full-time office lease or capital investment makes less financial sense. Indeed, a study by Global Workplace Analytics found that companies can save up to $11,000 per hybrid worker per year.
As uptake for hybrid working grows, it’s flexible workspaces that give companies the ability to make these kinds of savings. They also have the advantage that they come with receptionists wrapped up in the price, not to mention natural networking opportunities, so the financial and non-tangible benefits extend far and wide.
For brokers, it’s also about where clients want space. 90% of new IWG locations are in the suburbs, for example, acting as satellite offices to meet demand from employees who are now empowered to work near to home. For businesses, giving employees choice over their location taps into increasing demand for flexibility, while a pleasant part-time office space close to home allows for a better work-life balance – all while giving them the social and career advantages of office life.