Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he would consider legislation for employers to make the option of remote working mandatory.
Speaking in a webchat with members of women’s club AllBright, Mr Hancock said the coronavirus pandemic had made flexible working the “new norm” and was something all “good employers” should accommodate moving forward.
When asked if he would consider enforcing this through Government legislation, Mr Hancock replied “yes”, adding: “The way you could look at it is there’s a right to request flexible working.
“I definitely think it should be the norm where possible.
“We need to persuade people that allowing flexible working should continue. This is a change that is never going to go away.”
Mr Hancock also called for a study to be done into the “efficacy” of remote working, though he said the broader benefits of the practice – particularly for women – made it worth sustaining in the long-term.
“There’s a debate as to whether people work better when they’re working from home and it’s really difficult to know whether productivity goes up or down, but we’ve just had a massive experiment in that and we need to understand the answer to that,” he said.
“There’s a big argument that productivity has gone up during this when people are working from home, certainly in terms of wellbeing.”
He said one of the main beneficiaries of home working were women as they tend to have more childcare responsibilities, adding: “Evidence shows (flexible working) on average benefits women more than men”.
Outside of remote working, the discussion also broached the subject of whether Mr Hancock had any regrets about the Government’s handling of the crisis.
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Mr Hancock admitted there was an “endless” number of things he would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, pointing to the Government’s early social distancing guidelines for funerals as a particularly “emotional” example.
“We put out social distancing guidance, which was really strongly interpreted, and it meant that in the peak of the pandemic, lots of people didn’t go to the funeral even of someone they’ve been married to for 50 years. And there was a little boy from South London who was buried without his parents there, and that really affected me.
“So, we realised we’d made a mistake and we changed the guidance. The complexity of the response was that we had to make so many decisions incredibly quickly and if they weren’t working as intended, we had to change them.”