Working from home where possible should continue beyond the Covid-19 pandemic and become the new “norm”, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Millions of people across the UK have continued working from home following further easing of lockdown restriction, something all “good employers” should accommodate moving forward.
Managers and workers alike have cited increased leisure time due to not having to commute, money saved on train and buses fares and improved wellbeing as some of the benefits of not having to travel to the office five days per week.
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Official government guidance remains that “reasonable steps should be taken” by employers to help employees work from home.
“I definitely think it should be the norm where possible,” Hancock said in a webchat with members of women’s club AllBright. “We need to persuade people that allowing flexible working should continue. This is a change that is never going to go away.”
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 added.
“There’s a big argument that productivity has gone up during this when people are working from home, certainly in terms of wellbeing.”
When asked whether the government should consider legislation in promoting home working, Mr Hancock replied “yes”, adding: “The way you could look at it is there’s a right to request flexible working.
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 Hancock had any regrets about the government’s handling of the crisis.
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 an example.
As of Friday morning, there were 288,000 reported cases of coronavirus in the UK and 44,000 deaths, although official figures put that figure at closer to 50,000. Around 20,000 of deaths occurred in the UK’s care homes.
Prime minister Boris Johnson was roundly criticised earlier this week when he appeared to suggest that the social care sector was to blame for the UK’s high death toll, saying bosses had not properly followed procedures.
One charity boss described the comments as “cowardly” and “appalling”, adding there had been a “travesty of leadership” throughout the pandemic.
Mr Johnson refused to apologise for the comments. Business secretary Alok Sharma claimed his boss was “certainly not blaming care homes” for social care coronavirus deaths.
“What the prime minister was pointing out is nobody knew what the correct procedures were, because we know that the extent of the asymptomatic cases was not known at the time,” he told the BBC.
“We have done our best to put our arms around the care home sector.”