Flexible working isn’t just a perk anymore as EU law imposes it as part of its Work-life Balance Directive. The law has entered into force in August 2019. This was before anyone could imagine work from home during the pandemic. It aims to improve flexible work arrangements as well as access to family leave. What’s important is that Member States have time until August this year (2022) to adopt local laws to comply with the Directive. Needless to say, this makes me very happy as I believe that flexible working should be a human right!

I keep observing the ongoing in-office vs. remote work discussion literally every day. There are still numerous employers that are willing to “ban” working from home. These obviously include a number a of companies within the EU. Well, knowing about the mandatory implementation of the Work-life Balance Directive, I can’t help but wonder about the nonsense of mandatory office work statements. Why? Because the new EU law precisely distinguishes circumstances that will oblige employers to offer workplace flexibility. It’s no longer a benefit or act of goodwill but a mandatory step towards better, people-centric working arrangements. Get ready for a new era of flexible working that is becoming reality!

Flexible working isn’t just an employer’s courtesy

The goal of the Directive is to ensure better work balance between personal and professional life. It also tackles the issue of employment inequalities. Topics such as carers’ leave, employment relationship protection or parental leave are addressed as well. It also regulates flexible working arrangements at an employee’s request. The Directive specifically states that employees who take care of a child that is under the age of 8 or who are carers, may apply to work flexibly. At the same time, it defines flexible working as teleworking, intermittent working time, a shortened working week, working at weekends, flexible working hours, an individual schedule as well as a reduction in working time.

In practice this means that local jurisdictions will have to comply with such an approach. This will lead to visible changes in employment laws. Despite this Directive, many companies on the European market seem to be reluctant towards flexible working. They still claim office work to remain mandatory. According to Owl Labs, 44% of companies in the world don’t allow any level of remote work. On the other hand, more proactive organisations have started implementing remote and hybrid work policies as a result of employees’ working preferences. Statistics prove that the need for better work-life balance is the main reason for people to be interested in remote working. Still, the huge debate continues but I personally believe that the shift from the industrial worker objectification towards people-centric labour is on the rise.

How should companies get ready for workplace flexibility?

Well, companies that won’t decide to re-evaluate their internal processes and workflows to support workplace flexibility will most probably end up in chaos and employee performance decrease. If they don’t get ready to have systemic solutions, enabling workers to perform their tasks outside of the office – working from home will remain completely out of control. Here I mean legal solutions to make working from different locations possible as well as proper employee training to ensure top efficiency. Also, we can’t forget about the necessity to upskill managers to lead a distributed team.

Even if one employee works outside of the office, we’re already dealing a remote team.

I speak with numerous companies from all around the world. Most of them struggle with defining the level of flexibility that they’re willing to offer. Many state that it’s up to the manager to allow remote working. So if a team leader says “yes” then it works out. If the response is “no” –  mandatory office work becomes the case. I do understand that every team may have their own working preferences. However, granting flexible working options can’t be biased and just subject to a manager’s approval! Once local employment laws in the EU start getting adjusted to the “new normal”, employers will have to swallow the fact that it’s not them to decide about flexibility anymore. What should they do? First and foremost – rethink their current ways of working and  engage employees to participate in the shift towards workplace flexibility. Then, they should start their journeys towards operational excellence in the digital era.


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