BACK in 2019, remote working was almost unheard of, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused that to change almost overnight.

Many employees are still making the most of the flexibility that it brought, with very few offices fully occupied five days per week. You only need to walk around Glasgow or Edinburgh city centres during the week to see the impact on our main business districts.

The UK Government recently published proposals to update flexible working laws, aiming to make alternative working arrangements more easily available for employees. In a survey conducted by CIPD in 2021, nearly half (46 per cent ) of employees said they did not have access to flexible working arrangements as part of their role.

While the proposals will be welcome news for many, some might be fearful that new legislation could push workers further away from the office. Yet, we expect the proposed changes to have very little impact in real terms.

Among the changes include the right for employees to request flexible working arrangements from day one of a new job, compared to the previous rules which required 26 weeks’ service. The number of requests allowed within a 12-month period will also jump from one to two, and employers will need to respond within two months, rather than the current three. If a request is rejected, employers are also going to be asked to discuss alternatives with the employee.

Additional changes that employers should be aware of include adaptations to the request process, meaning employees no longer need to set out how the request might impact their employer, as well as the removal of exclusivity clauses for low-paid workers.

It may seem like a long list, but the biggest impact of all of these changes will be an increase in the number of flexible working requests that managers receive. The standard list of eight reasons that employers can reject a request still stands, and the decision to grant the request – or not – will remain at the employer’s discretion. However, we would recommend that employers carefully consider each request made and the impact it may have on the employee from a discriminatory perspective.

Stepping away from the legalities, the new proposals may have an influence on staff morale and recruitment. To help attract the best talent, it may be in your interest as an employer to allow greater flexibility. If you are seen to be adopting an unreasonable approach, particularly compared to competitors, you could risk a disengaged and demotivated workforce.

As with many business decisions, it is about striking the right balance. Of course, flexible working will have an impact on the company, but it could also be a highly positive thing that helps you to attract the best people.

Offices still have a hugely important role to play, and while new legislation could be seen to be encouraging more people to work from home, in the majority of cases it will still be up to the employer to decide. Flexible working will continue to be a "right to request", but companies that fail to allow flexibility risk paying the price in other ways.

Graham Millar is employment law partner at full-service law firm Gilson Gray