The immediate threat of Covid-19 has passed and the world is reawakening. Everyone is being encouraged to ‘get back to (some form of) reality’, but what does this mean in reality? How will political landscapes support the multifaceted ‘normal’ that is emerging?
According to research, in the second quarter of 2020 some 557 million workers worked from home due to the pandemic. This accounts for 17.4% of the world’s employment. As a result, organisations and employees alike have recognised the value that a remote working approach can bring to both parties.
Where offices are reopening, many organisations have introduced new working patterns. Some have adopted a hybrid working approach, some have given employees the choice as to how they want to work, and others have moved to home based working as the new default. But inevitably, there are downsides to every scenario. Whatever new working patterns are implemented, they need to be done with consideration because there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the aftermath of this unique challenge we have all faced.
Working remotely isn’t always for everyone, but flexible working could work for all
For all of its benefits, remote working is not an ideal situation for some people. In an article published byThriving Talent, they list the five misconceptions that make work/life harmony unattainable for working parents. As the lines between our personal and professional lives have been blurred, boundaries need to be put in place to ensure the long term mental and physical wellbeing of a remote workforce.
On the flip side, having spent more time at home and shared parental responsibilities during lockdown, more men recognise the benefits of flexible working on their relationships with their children. This sentiment was highlighted in a study of working fathers, which found that 65% of ‘partnered’ fathers “reported better father-child relationship following lockdown, rising to 73% among those who were full-time at home.”
The daily struggle to be 100% present for work and to fulfil home needs when juggling care responsibilities on a long-term basis leaves many feeling mentally wrung out. It impacts productivity and is detrimental to long term mental health. Hence, it seems unfair for organisations to force existing employees to work from home permanently if they are more productive in the office and vice versa. A balance must be forged, and employers need to be equipped to best implement suitable long term working policies in this new frontier.
This is where politics comes into play. We need our government leaders to put in place robust guidance and legislation on flexible working that covers both employers and employees moving forward.
Flexible working as a means to increase diversity in the workplace has been a mission for many influential organisations, and quite rightly so. Some organisations are now finding that they have employees working on differing patterns (i.e. hybrid, remote and office), so the challenge is how to ensure that all bases are covered from an HR and legal perspective.
In an ideal world, the answer would be to let each employee choose the right option for them. However, the employer’s needs cannot be ignored, and such an approach would be a logistical headache for many organisations. However, almost all challenges can be overcome with a bit of thought and lateral thinking.
Changing spaces in a changing world
In an article by Mckinsey, the idea of reimaging office spaces and their role within an organisation is one that most organisational leaders should note. Some of the ideas they pose include decentralising large organisations away from city centres, opening smaller ‘satellite’ offices in suburban areas, and reconfiguring existing spaces to facilitate collaborative working for employees rather than banks of work desks.
For organisations moving to 100% remote working, thus saving on traditional office costs, could they still provide flexible spaces for working parents to use during the school holidays, or allow managers to divert budgets so that individuals can work in a local coworking space?
Whichever way the physical office will manifest in the long term, employers and policymakers alike need to ensure that staff are supported and that opportunities for career progression are not missed because of a lack of physical presence. The pandemic has widened the gender gap by a further 36 years to 135.6 years, as proportionately more women than men left employment to fulfil caring roles or scaled down their working commitments.
Even before Covid-19, research carried out by IWG showed that 83% of people would choose a job that offered flexible working over a job that didn’t. Therefore organisations who want to attract and retain top talent should be considering their flexible working policies and how they will support and develop their staff very carefully.
As things are beginning to settle, it will soon be clear to see which organisations are winning in the desirability factor when it comes to recruiting talent. We hope that governments around the globe move with the times and bring in policies that ensure flexible working in its many guises is a high priority.