FLEXIBLE WORKING IN A POST-COVID LANDSCAPE

As a result of the pandemic, more people than ever are engaging in flexible working and working from home. Whether it’s due to self-isolation, the closure of office spaces, or looking after children or vulnerable relatives, remote and flexible working has escalated at a rate no one could have foreseen. That includes those (such as ourselves) who’ve been practicing – and promoting – flexible working since way before the pandemic.

So, though the circumstances are extreme – and far from desirable – will this prolonged and enforced change in our working style persist beyond 2021? Could we be at the precipice of a new era for the way we Britons work?

‘CLOCK-ON’ TO FLEXIBLE WORKING

Here at Danbro, we’ve always believed that flexible working is good for business. Even before COVID disrupted our lives, modern society was placing an increasing amount of pressure on peoples’ time. But, for those whose jobs are flexible, they have the capacity and control to get more done.

Flexible working and working from home are options that have always been open to our employees. But even we couldn’t have foreseen a time when our team would be unable to work from our iconic Jubilee House home. Pre-COVID, only 6% of people in the UK were working ‘traditional’ 9-5 hours, with almost half working flexibly. And, that’s before lockdown took remote working to a whole new level.

As of June 2021, there were close to four million people in the UK able to work flexible hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the region with the highest proportion of remote workers is the South East, where more than one in five workers worked predominantly from home last year.

WHAT DOES FLEXIBLE WORKING MEAN?

Flexible working is a form of working arrangement. It allows employees a level of flexibility and autonomy over when and where they carry out their work.

Flexible working takes many forms, such as:
  • Working from home
  • Working part-time
  • Working fewer hours/shorter weeks
  • Using flexi-time to clock in and out when it suits yourself and your employer
  • Staggering your start and finish times
  • Job sharing with others
  • Changing your days off
  • Taking a career break
  • Self-rostering

POSITIVE IMPACT ON HEALTH & WELLBEING

A study from insurers Aviva revealed that more than two-thirds of workers want more flexible working options as we move into a post-COVID landscape. Most employees are keen on ‘hybrid’ ways of working. A ratio of three office days to two home-working days seems to be the preferred option for most.

Remote working is just one component of flexible working. And, while some have flourished away from the office, for others it’s been much more difficult. According to the report, women, in particular, have concerns about ‘work-related burnout’. And, Aviva’s wellbeing lead, Debbie Bullock, issued a stark warning to employers who are inflexible about flexible working.

“It’s important that people get treated as individuals, rather than employers trying to impose a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. “The pandemic may have been a collective experience, but the impact has been fragmented in so many ways, with women especially facing particularly acute stresses from the blurring of lines between home and work. An always-on, ever-present culture is guaranteed to end with people’s batteries depleted. It’s essential that employers recognise long-term productivity is only possible if you make space for wellbeing to flourish at work.”



DID YOU KNOW…?  If you’re a UK employee and you’ve worked for your employer for over 26 weeks, you’re entitled to make a request for flexible working.



The option to work flexibly tends to have a positive impact on your work-life balance, and your health and wellbeing. As well as looking after the interests of the individual, it can also affect personal productivity.

For years, global leaders such as Vodafone, Unilever and Thomson Reuters have been cited for their flexible, modern approach to the hours their employees’ work. And, as we move on from the pandemic, other large firms are following suit.

All of Tui’s office based staff have the option of deciding what working environment best suits them. What’s more, county councils like Nottinghamshire are also adopting a flexible approach for both financial and productivity purposes.

AMPLE BENEFITS TO FLEXIBLE WORKING

The benefits of workforce flexibility are ample. As we know, throughout 2020/21, the enforcement of remote working due to COVID-19 has had a profound impact on safety for both vulnerable and non-vulnerable workers. It has also led to many more companies considering the merits of flexible working. And, the harnessing of new and existing technology enables workers to work flexibly and effectively from home.

As of July 2021, employers no longer have to instruct workers to operate remotely, which had been the case throughout the pandemic. Employers are legally obligated to ensure the safety of their employees, and this applies to COVID-19. And, despite the lifting of restrictions, employers are entitled to encourage things like lateral flow testing, social distancing, and mask wearing in certain parts of their premises to mitigate risk within the workplace.

Whilst it’s expected that many firms will continue allowing staff to work from home, the government has no plans to make this the default option or introduce a ‘legal right to work from home’. If flexible and remote working does continue on its current trajectory, though, it will be interesting to see if there’s an increase in the availability of shared remote working environments, such as this one at Society1.

‘IT’S ALL ABOUT GETTING THE JOB DONE’

Unsure whether flexible working is right for you and your business? Here’s Helen Broughton MBE DL, the Danbro Group’s Managing Director, on why flexible working was working for Danbro long before lockdown:

“The pandemic has resulted in a wholesale shift towards an acceptance of remote working as a viable option for both employers and employees.”

“The ability to introduce flexible working into a business depends entirely on the needs of that business and the ability of the employee to work effectively away from the office.”

“What is clear is that a seismic shift has occurred. And, the next transition will be about adopting a pattern of flexible working that is sustainable in the long-term.”

“Younger generations entering the workplace today expect flexibility. As a result, 9-to-5 in the office feels a little old-fashioned. The future may be more about measuring and paying for productivity, making the hours and location you work somewhat immaterial.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the job done.”

“Employers will do well to ensure that increasing amounts of flexibility are built into the roles they employ, so as not to miss out on attracting the best pool of new talent. If anything, the pandemic has accelerated this.”

“That said, accommodating flexible working is not without its challenges.”

“For instance, it’s worth remembering that not everyone has a home environment that’s conducive to work. And, even if they have, not everyone is as productive when working remotely. Some are, of course, but those who struggle with this will need to be managed appropriately. Employers will want to be able to see what their employees are doing and how effective they are away from the office. Software and technology companies are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to support businesses with this.”

“Perhaps the biggest consideration to make when implementing a flexible working strategy, though, is the impact on things like collaboration, teamwork, relationships and mental health. These are all crucial factors that could be adversely affected if your transition to flexible working is not managed properly, with the right balance between remote and office-based working. The hybrid approach is definitely worth looking at in this regard.”

“Flexible working requirements [such as working from home] may become something employers recruit for moving forward. It could develop into one of the main criteria for people looking for work. Either way, employers will need to get the balance right. This is to ensure the needs of their customers don’t come second to those of their employees.”

“Of course, it is easier to offer more flexible hours if you employ thousands of people. As it’s more likely that the required service cover will be available. When you only have a small number of employees, it can be more difficult to accommodate everyone’s requests. Particularly when you work in a customer facing role.”

“So, be more flexible if you can. But don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t something that will work for your business, your employees or, more importantly, your customers.”

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