Commuter chaos | Why train strikes shouldn't derail the first work week of 2023

Why train strikes shouldn't derail the first work week of 2023

It’s the first week of the new year and masses of employees will be returning to work after a well-earned break, one which has hopefully renewed their vigour, given them the vim to kickstart the year and the confidence to take on more challenges that lie ahead.

However, pay disputes within the rail industry, which were ongoing throughout 2022, have continued into the new year. Strikes have been held by the RMT union across the UK’s railways this week (including several London Underground services), leading to drastically reduced timetables and leading many would-be commuters to work from home during the first working week of 2022.

Of course, this has huge ramifications for fully office-based and hybrid workers, who may find that their journey to and from the office is severely impacted.

But the rail strikes, and the inconvenience they may cause, are a poignant reminder that whilst the hybrid working model undoubtedly has its merits (and is the preferred working structure of over 84% of workers, according to the ONS), fundamental issues with the way we work in the post-Covid world still very much exist. And, the onus is still on HR to navigate these issues.

Remote working the solution to travel chaos?

So, what can HR do to help workers manage disruption caused by rail strikes? The most obvious way to mitigate the travel chaos, which will have largely impacted most other forms of business travel such as commuting by car or bus, is to promote working remotely among your workforce.

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This is an option that many seem to be taking; according to WSERD data, the number of fully remote workers went from a total of 5.7% in January of 2019, to 43.1% by April of 2020 – a huge boom facilitated by the rise in remote working technology, and the experience of navigating the pandemic.

Yet, going fully remote isn’t the simple solution that many HR practitioners may presume. Discontent is growing among this demographic, as new data from SHARP shows. Of those polled in the research, 47% noted their discontent at having to navigate a range of technologies, just to replicate the experience of working from the office. A further 53% also noted that they struggle to focus and maintain an interest in work, when operating remotely.

Remote working not the future after all?

In fact, it seems that the tide may be turning on the dramatic rise in fully-remote working – especially among younger generations. Civic Science research, conducted recently, states that whilst those working in the office report being satisfied with their current arrangement, remote workers are swiftly changing their tune.

35% of respondents working from an office or physical location noted they were ‘very happy’, whilst 44% said they were ‘somewhat happy’. Of those working remotely, 31% said ‘somewhat unhappy’ and just 18% said ‘very happy’.

Similarly, it seems to be younger workers, and especially Gen-Z, who are dissatisfied with their working arrangements. A massive 68% of 18- to 24-year-old workers claim that they are unhappy working remotely, due to the isolation and limited chances for development that are commonplace.

Unfortunately for workers, this change in opinion is not being met with declining numbers of fully remote positions. Data from Ladders claims that, far from reverting back to in-office working, the current trend toward remote operations will continue into 2023, potentially seeing as much as a 15% uptick throughout the year.

What can employers do?

Full-time remote working is clearly not the preference of most workers. Yet with travel continuing to be impacted by rail strikes, how should HR respond to these persistent issues? Chris Deeley, Solicitor in the employment team at JMW Solicitors, recently told HR Grapevine that he’d recommend simply applying more agility into working schedules.

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This, he notes, means not taking such hard-line stances on working structures, and allowing flexibility when needed. “The first pragmatic step is to allow those employees whose roles can be effectively done from home to do so.

“This can simply be extended as a one-off favour – there is no risk of creating a precedent and no need to change employees’ contracts for such a short-term measure, although in order to effectively manage expectations it should be emphasised to staff that these are exceptional circumstances to which the business is responding accordingly,” he concluded.

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