Will a legal ‘right to disconnect’ protect remote workers?

This Wednesday Briefing looks at a survey supporting more protection for home workers, the cultural barriers to digital transformation, and the future of the legal workplace

Should remote workers have a legal ‘right to disconnect’ to protect their mental health and keep their personal and professional lives separate?

According to a new Opinium poll of nearly 2,500 people in the UK – including 617 who are normally office based – two-thirds of workers want companies to be legally required to agree rules with their workforce and set clear boundaries on when employees can and cannot be contacted.

The poll comes at a time of growing concern over the blurring of the lines between home and work life the longer the pandemic goes on. Faced with a grey area leading to much longer working days, respondents in the Opinium research study said they wanted the UK to follow the lead of other countries in setting legally binding rules so that people can switch off and recharge.

‘Should lawmakers be setting legally binding rules so that remote workers can switch off and recharge…?’

Ireland has already has already gone down that route by introducing a right to disconnect so that employees do not routinely work beyond their normal hours and can strike a better work-life balance. Canada is looking at a similar policy, albeit from the angle of supporting female workers who already burdened by shouldering more household chores and care-giving duties during the pandemic. Finland has introduced a new Working Hours Act which formally recognises working hours whether or not people are attending an office.

The UK Government is currently considering a new employment bill to address the changing world of work. Whether it will legislate to address the downsides of remote working is in the balance; if it does, a new law giving the right to disconnect will send a strong message to the global workplace sector.

Cultural barriers to transformation

The chief barrier for large organisations seeking to achieve digital transformation in the new hybrid world of work is not technical – it is cultural. That was a key message to emerge from our latest WORKTECH Webinar, Diving Into Data: How to Get Workplace Transformation Right, held on 8 April 2021.

According to Antonio Brunner, Digital Workplace Director at Deutsche Bank, ‘Workplace transformation isn’t just about the IT infrastructure or the physical workplace. The biggest challenge is culture, in trusting employees to work independently with new ways of working.’ Deutsche Bank is rethinking the size of its real estate portfolio, said Brunner, and considering less space for individual task-based work and more collaborative spaces.

Sid Bhatia, Director, Workforce of the Future, at global consultants PwC, called for a culture of inclusivity and mentoring to be part of any company’s journey to digital transformation. Nellie  Hyatt, Head of Workplace Transformation at US analytics company Vergesense, argued that organisations can’t keep ‘working in the dark ages’ and can’t keep saying they didn’t know their workplaces were unhealthy or unpopular with employees. Such cultures were today ‘unacceptable’, she told the webinar. Having the right data to align workplace strategy and design decisions was critical.

Watch the full seminar here:


The future of the legal workplace

For some industry sectors, such as technology, Covid-19 accelerated trends that were already occurring. But more traditional industries such as law and finance typically are further behind on their workplace transformation journey. Large investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Barclays have already pushed back on remote working as a viable and sustainable mode of working for their workforce in the future. Does the legal sector have a similar trajectory?

Seemingly not, according to an upcoming global report on the future of the legal workplace produced by Australian architects BVN, in partnership with WORKTECH Academy and Cushman & Wakefield. The report, due to be published at WORKTECH’s virtual Professional Services event on 21 April 2021, takes a global perspective on how leaders in international law firms are planning to move forward after the pandemic has passed.

The report explores four key emerging themes in the legal workplace: the function of the office, talent attraction and mentoring, technology and automation, and culture and leadership. The research is based on three separate roundtables with partners of over 20 global law firms, in three key regions: Australia, EMEA and North America.

The research highlights the contrasts and consistent challenges and opportunities for law firms across different regions. In this context, the report aims to explore the new purpose of the legal office and present different spatial design scenarios based on new ways of working in the sector.

The report will be launched at 16:10 GMT at the WORKTECH Professional Services virtual event during a panel discussion between WORKTECH Academy content editor Kasia Maynard, Susanne Mayer of BVN, Nicola Gillen of Cushman and Wakefield, and Sam Nickless who is the COO of Gilbert and Tobin law firm. Register for the event here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 15 April 2021.
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