Flexible working – What happens when we get to the other side?
21st April 2020
There has long been negative association attached to remote & flexible or agile working, but hopefully this will become a thing of the past once the current COVID-19 cloud has lifted and the risk to health is no longer a threat.
In 2017 the TUC and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that the number of people working from home in the UK (e.g. at least one day from home per week) had risen to 1.5 million people. The number today, in the midst of COVID-19 must surely be in the many millions by now, so it’s going to be something of a challenge for employers to turn the tide on remote working, now that everyone has had a taste of it.
Whilst the actual numbers of those working remotely during COVID19 are almost impossible to quantify, the immediate rise and thirst of this more modern approach to work, will surely only increase.
The current situation we find ourselves in has enabled those who may not have positively viewed working this way, to trial it and feel the benefits. With no wasted commute time or endless face-to-face meetings, people carve out far more efficient working days, booking in only those essential meetings (via tech). Those friendly “at desk” interruptions & distractions just don’t exist.
Employers have been frog-marched into trusting their teams, to make ‘this’ work. Of course there have been some technical headaches, video conferencing platforms have fallen over with the surge in demand and teams have had to adjust to this new way of working with little time to prepare, but there have been countless positive stories about the benefits and the efficiencies of working this way.
What to consider when the world returns to normal(ish)
So, how will businesses and industry react and plan for our economy returning to some form of normality, when the majority of remote workers are required back in the office? We have pulled together some thoughts around what HR and business leaders will need to consider:
Communication and management of expectation – concise leadership and confident and clear messaging from the start are vital; for what could be an unsettled workforce.
Mental health and wellbeing – it shouldn’t be underestimated that some employees will have struggled through this period of social isolation, for example feeling vulnerable after a long period of working alone. Support, such as counselling could be made available through work EAP programmes. Everyone’s mental health will have been impacted by this. There is no vaccine to protect one’s mental health, just a set of coping strategies that we hope to learn and hone.
Phased return to office-based working – companies might do well to consider a phased return to work. Not only will this gradual return aid self-confidence (commuting and social mixing are bound to feel odd to start with), but it will also assist in the huge shift of mindset after such a long period of working and living in the same environment.
Be creative about how people work on returning – perhaps new patterns of work could be considered; individuals will have become used to their own new routine, having worked remotely and many will miss the productivity those days promoted. Allowing each person to thrive in their different chronobiological rhythms could really contribute to a highly effective workforce.
Expect productivity peaks and troughs – the mass return to work isn’t going to be smooth sailing, much like the massive home-working & home-schooling asteroid that landed on many of us in the UK on Monday 23rd March 2020, wasn’t. Be kind and appreciative of the journey we will all have been on and show empathy for the changes your team are experiencing and the emotional rollercoaster they have been on.
Empathy and compassion always. Many people will have lost friends and family through this horrific disease, some will have been ill themselves or spent time in hospital – everyone will have been touched in some way. Show your true colours as a supportive employer and look after your team – even when we are all a few months back into the new normal – there will be ramifications.
And a change in candidate expectation?
To close off, we foresee candidate expectation as a mixed bag when all returns to normal. Some job seekers will feel fortunate to find a job with so many others seeking work, despite there also being many companies needing to rehire (so enough to go around so to speak). These individuals may forego the working from home aspect, but others could well realise how productive they can be with remote working and the balance it offers (less commute and stress etc). If those also truly know their worth, then we see it becoming non-negotiable.
We also believe businesses will not turn away talent just because potential hires want some more flex to work remotely within their week and now that it’s been trialled on a mass volume we think they will relax into these requests.
Harriet & Jane
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