Hybrid working not a panacea for inclusivity

A report out this week suggests that the adoption of hybrid working models would allow nearly 4 million people otherwise unable to work to join the UK workforce.

Carers, parents and disabled people are among the 3.8 million people that could most benefit from an increase in hybrid working the report claims, while the nation’s 6.8 million part-time workers could boost their hours adding a potential £48 billion annually to the UK economy.

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The report, produced by Virgin Media O2 Business and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, states that remote working would allow 45% of those out-of-work to seek employment, with 52% of unemployed care sector employees happy to work remotely along with 49% of parents and 40% of unemployed disabled people.

This translates to 1.2 million parents, 1.5 million people with disabilities, 500,000 with caring responsibilities and 600,000 others who are currently out of work.

However Angela Matthews, head of policy at the Business Disability Forum (BDF), said that a lack of hybrid working, in many cases, is not what is shutting people out.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “This is some great research, but from BDF’s perspective hybrid working isn’t new. A lot of our members, if not all, have been flexi-working, home working and hybrid working for years but disabled people and carers are still at a disadvantage.

“Hybrid working isn’t going to solve discrimination against disabled workers and carers. It is an employer’s approach to inclusion and how they value different groups that is preventing more disabled people and more carers from being a valued and active part of the workforce,” said Matthews. 

Rather than just hybrid or remote working initiatives, Matthews said fundamental changes were needed in organisational culture, how technology is deployed and inclusive communications. 

Other figures from the report suggested that 43% of part-time workers would increase their working hours if they could work remotely, with an average increase for disabled people, parents and care workers of 5.1 hours per week. 

Lucinda Quigley, head of working parents at Talking Talent, said that flexible or hybrid working is not the silver bullet for parents that it might seem.

“This is causing huge anxiety for working parents. It is all very unclear,” she told HR magazine.

“There has to be a real understanding from employers that every individual working parent needs to set their own working boundaries to be able to create the work/life balance and that they are just as valuable in the workplace.”

Quigley stressed that managers needed to take the time to have open and honest conversations with their working parents to understand what arrangements might work best for them.

Technology, according to Matthews, is one of the biggest barriers to an inclusive workforce.

“For disabled people, using assistive technology is a big issue,” she said.

“The assistive tech market is moving faster than the internal IT infrastructures that businesses have, which means one of the most complained about issues is that the technology disabled people use in their homes is so advanced that it’s not compatible with their work IT particularly in accounting, finance and legal.”

The report also stated that investment in new technologies to enable remote and hybrid working would add £76 billion in GDP to the UK economy by 2025 and drive an uplift of £236 billion by 2040.

The report is the result of a survey of 502 decision-makers conducted between 1 and 10 July 2021. A separate survey of 2,000 nationally representative consumers also informed the report.

The results come ahead of a new government consultation paper on proposals that would enable new employees to request flexible working from the beginning of a new job, rather than having to wait the current six months after starting their role.

This document, due to be published today (Thursday 23 September), is part of a broader Good Work Plan, launched in 2019 by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).