The pandemic is supporting people’s demands for a more flexible working environment

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the rise of flexible working

Flexible working has been regarded as a concept directed toward working mothers. The pandemic may finally be transforming this idea, offering all workers the opportunity for more autonomy.

Millions of workers continue to embrace remote working, bringing their day to day work activities into their spare rooms, kitchens and wherever else they can find space. The pandemic has blurred the boundaries even more so between home and work life and while governments intend to implement measures to ease lockdown restrictions, it’s unlikely that we return to the normal working way for some time, if at all for some.

It’s clear that the future of work has arrived, and this future is predominantly focused on flexible working conditions. All signs suggest that the challenges we have encountered are reshaping our working environment. The remote meetings, the interactions with children interrupting calls has disrupted the normality of the conventional workplace. Analysts believe these experiences have eased the adoption of flexible working.

For years, flexible working has been recognised by some employers, but many have been somewhat cautious to implement flexible working measures in their organisation. Generally, parents and carers are considered to be the traditional groups to request flexitime or the ability to work remotely. Studies suggest that in previous years, requests for flexi-working have been denied. A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2019 suggested that one in three requests for flexible working were turned down. Things have changed dramatically, and the forced shift to remote working has enabled organisations that may have been hesitant to encourage this style of working are embracing the opportunities it brings.

For years, remote working was regarded as a benefit or an alternative option for working mothers. Despite mounting research indicating that structured working hours can impact employee wellbeing and productivity, the belief that the most efficient work happens in the office remained.

But now, business leaders that may have been cautious about letting employees working remotely were forced to adapt, and many are coming around to the concept of flexible working in their business. The CEO’s of Barclays and WPP have both stated they intend for flexible working to become part of the new normal. Other businesses are also thinking of implementing similar measures after experiencing firsthand how their organisation has successfully managed with the rapid transition to working from home. 

One of the biggest challenges to remote working has come from the perception of senior team leaders. If managers and business leaders are on board with the remote working, then it is likely to be more of a success for the business. The situation right now is remarkably unique and involves more than just working remotely. It involves us working in a new environment, during an unprecedented global pandemic. The challenges of restricted movement, homeschooling and limited social contact are factors that complicate flexible working.

Studies from the Office of National Statistics suggest that only 50% of the UK workforce worked successfully from home during the lockdown. A separate report from the UK Think Tank, The Resolution Foundation, discovered that high earning employees were much more likely to work remotely. The data suggested that only around 10% of employees in the lower-earning brackets were capable of working from home. Employees are demanding change, with a Gartner study indicating that just under 50% of employees expect to continue working from home after the pandemic.

While it may be a little longer before remote working is adopted globally, it seems clear that the traditional 9-5 working model is no longer what people want. Industry experts predict a hybrid model to emerge, enabling employees the option to work from home a few days a week or to go to the office for specific meetings. How businesses have responded and adapted to the recent changes will influence how companies operate in the years to come.

Post-pandemic working may be less concerned about where we work and focused more on a cultural movement, with businesses providing the individual with added autonomy. Working parents may not need to seek approval to take time off to meet childcare needs, and other employees may be able to work remotely without being concerned about the impact this may have on their progression and career path. The pandemic has allowed us to encourage people to recreate the office environment and embrace an alternative way of working that benefit both the individual and the employer.

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