Working from home is here to stay in Tunbridge Wells despite clampdown

Co-founder of Pickering - Polly Taylor

Government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has reportedly been conducting ‘spot checks’ on civil servants, leaving notes on desks saying ‘I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon’ following a drive by Downing Street to stop public sector employees from working from home.

London-based law firm Stephenson Harwood also announced last week that it would offer staff the ability to work from home permanently – but at the cost of a 20 per cent pay cut.

Locally, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s (TWBC) plans for the Town Hall are dependent on giving up some office space to a ‘co-working’ company, which means a number of Council officers are hybrid working – spending some time in the office and some at home.

Nicky Carter, Head of HR, Customer Service & Culture at the authority said: “Each team has its own working patterns depending on what the Council needs. 

“Some members of staff work from the office all the time, others have a mixed pattern of working. It is not possible to say how many people fall into each category as it can vary on a daily basis.”

Hybrid working is also now permanently established at County Hall.

A Kent County Council (KCC) spokesperson told the Times: “We have 12 buildings across our office estate designed to accommodate the needs of individuals and teams. 

“As a council, we deliver a complex range of services and the vast majority of our staff need to be able to access the right equipment and spaces to meet the varied demands of service delivery day to day, making sure that wherever they work from the people we support across Kent can still access the information, guidance and support they need.

“Managers and staff have risen to the challenge of adapting the way we work, and regularly book desks in the spaces that best meet there needs or drop in to the facilities as part of their daily routines of working around the county.”

In the private sector, as Times reported last year, AXA Health, the town’s largest employer, remained committed to hybrid working but ‘would not adopt a 100 per cent working from home model’, after closing two local offices.

And law firm Cripps Pemberton Greenish has said the firm now had ‘embedded’ a hybrid working model for its London and Tunbridge Wells-based teams..

Chief People Officer Craig McMurrough added: “We delivered a guide designed to help employees achieve the right blend of home and office working. However, this approach has always been positioned as a guide rather than policy. We trust and enable our people to excel in their work and they consistently rise to the challenge.”

But increased levels of WFH is at ‘the detriment’ of some workers, HR experts have warned.

Tunbridge Wells-based career coach and consultant Husnara Begum, told the Times: “If you can shave off two hours from your commute, it can be quite a game-changer. 

“For employers it’s a cost-cutting exercise. They can also recruit talent from anywhere in the country. I can see why they do it.

“But the flip side of that coin is the detriment to company culture,” she said. 

“It is to the detriment of junior colleagues, who are not able to learn through osmosis,” she added, warning that if new employees and less experienced staff could not have access to their seniors, it could ‘kill the culture’ of an organisation.

“In a candidate-led market, when employers are fighting over good candidates, they need to be very careful about their approach to flexibility,” she continued. “If you go down the Stephenson Harwood approach [and cut salaries by 20 per cent], what does that say about your culture? Ultimately, decision-making should be localised, and employees should be treated like grown-ups.”

Tax relief for WFH may now be off the kitchen table

Employees working from home may no longer be eligible for tax relief, accountants have warned.

Darren Austin, founder of Synergee, said work-from-home tax relief claims are now dropping to pre-pandemic levels as employees no longer become eligible to claim the subsidy.

Employees had been allowed to claim tax relief for the whole tax year, which was to pay for electricity, broadband and heating while working at home.

The rules only applied if workers were required to work from home for any amount of time, even one day – rather than only claiming for the period required.

However, with lockdowns no longer mandated, it was likely most employees would be counted as working from home ‘by choice’, said Darren Austin.

He explained: “If employees continue to work from home by choice, no claim is allowed. 

“In order to make a claim, one of the following must apply: There are no appropriate facilities available for the employee to perform their job on the employer’s premises.

“And the nature of the job requires the employee to live so far from the employer’s premises that it is unreasonable for them to travel to those premises on a daily basis.”

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