The phrase ‘our new normal’ became something of a cliché during the lockdown periods and alert level restrictions. The fact that we all managed and, mostly, enjoyed working from home suggested the tide had turned on traditional working styles and the home office was here to stay.

However, it seems those short-term predictions were mistaken for long-term trends and widespread acceptance of this new way of working has not transpired or been embraced to the same extent as many people expected.

The last six months can be described as a `giant sampling campaign’ where we were all able to test different ways of working since coming to the office or workplace was not an option. However, against predictions, most of us have rushed back to the workplace. But the ‘flexibility’ genie is well and truly out of the bottle. The lockdown period demonstrated that people did not need to be physically present in the office to get work done and that staff can be trusted even if you can’t see them.

Flexible working arrangements are not a new trend – they have been bubbling away for some years. The Employment Relations Amendment Act (2014) provided a process for an employee to request a flexible working arrangement. Alert level lockdowns caused by COVID-19 have merely accelerated a change in mindsets and expectations of staff that flexible arrangements could work in certain environments and roles.

The issue now is how to manage `flexibility’ in the workplace and how to define it so everyone is happy. Managing employment relationships is about setting clear expectations so it is important to engage with your team to set new parameters.

Anecdotally, there has been a slow massaging of what is considered normal `hours of work’ and how employers and employees manage sickness. For some, starting work later in the morning and working into the evening became `normal’. We are also encouraged to stay home at any sign of sickness to ensure containment of bugs but to continue working from home where possible. That begs the question, at what point, are you actually sick and shouldn’t be working?

Workplace policies are an important tool to help create the culture of the workplace and set out how a business conducts its day-to-day affairs. We recommend an inclusive approach is used to determine what flexibility means for your business and clearly articulate the framework in a Flexible Working Arrangement policy.

There is so much more to consider than just what hours your employees work or how many days they can work from home. Other things to discuss with your team include the use of technology, health and safety, team interaction and delivery to name a few. However, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and working from home, it is an exciting time and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to get creative and innovative about the way they work.

If you are unsure of the legal implications of flexible working arrangements, feel free to give us a call to talk to one of our employment law experts.

Employment & HR Workplace policies