The UK government plans to introduce flexible working for millions of people from the first day they start a job.
Ministers have spelt out a range of options, including job-sharing, flexitime and working compressed, annualised or staggered hours.
Workers have been promised that the new measures will give them greater access to flexibility over where, when and how they work.
The move comes after a survey by professional network LinkedIn found that about 68 per cent of business leaders globally believe that progress made on flexible working during the Covid-19 pandemic is now at risk as companies navigate economic uncertainty.
The pandemic also forced many workers to adapt to working from home, with many finding that they preferred the new regime.
Trials of shorter working weeks have been taking place.
In October, proposals that would effectively bring forward a four-day working week cleared their first parliamentary hurdle.
Labour MP Peter Dowd told the House of Commons that it was “time for change” as he made the case for a shorter working week, insisting it would be good for the economy, the workers and the environment.
Under the plans, the official working week would be reduced to 32 hours, from 48, and any work beyond that would have to be paid by employers as overtime at 1.5 times the worker’s ordinary rate of pay.
One hundred UK companies signed up to a permanent four-day working week — with no loss of pay — after a campaign to rip up the Monday-to-Friday tradition.
Flexible working has been found to help employees balance their work and home life, especially supporting those who have commitments or responsibilities such as caring for children or vulnerable people, the government said.
The announcement coincides with new laws coming into effect that will allow the lowest paid to work for different employers.
Small Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “Giving staff more say over their working pattern makes for happier employees and more productive businesses. Put simply, it is a no-brainer.
“Greater flexibility over where, when and how people work is an integral part of our plan to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”
Workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the lower earnings limit of £123 a week will now be protected from exclusivity clauses being enforced against them, which restricted them from working for many employers.
The government said its reforms would ensure that about 1.5 million low-paid employees can work several short-term contracts, benefiting people such as students or those with caring responsibilities.
If an employer cannot accommodate a request to work flexibly, they will be required to discuss alternative options before they can reject the request.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it had been a year since a consultation on flexible working closed and people were “tired of waiting for action”.
“Flexible working should be available to everyone. It is how we keep mums in work, close the gender pay gap and give dads more time with their kids, and it is how we keep disabled workers, older workers and carers in their jobs,” she said.
“Allowing working people to ask for flexible working from their first day in a job would be a small step in the right direction, but we’d like the government to go much further to ensure that flexible work now becomes the norm.
“Ministers must change the law so that every job advert makes clear what kind of flexible working is available in that role, and they should give workers the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job — not just the right to ask.”