The COVID-19 pandemic had and continues to have a profound impact on the way we live our lives and so it is no surprise then that it has affected the way we do business. And so, as the majority of us ease out of lockdown and look towards recovery and the new “normal”, it is a crucial time to pause and reflect on what we have learned.
During lockdown we saw organisations, managers and workers rise to the challenge of working, in some cases, completely remotely for the first time. Some commentators went so far as to say that this was the biggest change in work since the industrial revolution. For many, this has resulted in:-
a change in culture of their workplace including a deeper connections of trust and empathy between managers and workers as we managed our way through balancing our work/life commitments;
adaptations of how work is done and a move from physical to virtual and the inevitable struggle that some jobs simply had to have someone present;
increased productivity through a lack of interruptions and clearer communications; and
a change of job roles / duties that had to be undertaken at speed.
Some commentators have noted that as a result of changes in how we work, the focus on what we want from work has shifted. These desires are somewhat unsurprising but have been captured in two studies which are of interest. The first was conducted by Working Families, a work-life balance charity, which surveyed 1,000 working parents and found that:-
48% of parents and carers hoped to change their working patterns after COVID-19;
90% of parents and carers wanted their workplace to retain flexible working options after COVID-19;
84% of those surveyed were working flexibly but only 65% had been offered flexible working prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second study was conducted by Bright Horizons, a nursery provider, in conjunction with workingdads.co.uk, Families Magazine and Dad.info which surveyed 1,500 working parents and found that, of those surveyed:-
55% wanted to work in the office for no more than three days per week on their return;
15% wanted to work from home permanently;
14% wanted to work from home for the majority of their time;
48% who were fully office based before COVID were considering asking for more remote or agile work in the future.
The COVID-19 lockdown was challenging in more ways than we can cover in this short article.
One of the biggest challenges, to the workplace, was supporting those who found the new way of working, or time on Furlough, difficult, whether that was through the fear of losing their jobs or simply the lack of human contact. Many businesses stepped up to ensure their worker’s mental health was looked after when physical health was also so important.
Another challenge which can be broken down into two parts was working flexibly. Firstly, how to ensure that workers had the right equipment to work from home but also challenging organisations to consider allowing people to work from home in roles previously considered to be inappropriate.
Many organisations have risen to this challenge and have been rewarded with increased loyalty from their workers. However, now is a pivotal time to maintain flexibility in the workplace, with surveys indicating that at least one in ten workers considering making a formal flexible working request. This is unlikely to be surprising with large organisations, such as Twitter confirming that they intend to allow their workers to work from home permanently.
So before all of your workers come back, you may wish to brush up on what a formal flexible working request is and whether you have a policy in place to help guide you through the process, especially as many commentators are calling for improvements to the formal flexible working request. We have recently written a short guide on formal flexible working requests and so if you would like this (for free) please email Nick Hobden, Ben Stepney or Alexander Millward using our email addresses, below.
We have previously written about the benefits on increased productivity, mental health and talent attraction that having a flexible working regime has on the workforce but the notion is gathering steam. A group of cross-party MPs have urged the government to consider a four day, 30 hour, working week, post COVID-19, citing that there was a reduction in working hours after the Great Depression in 1930 to reduce unemployment. Other countries such as Scotland and New Zealand are considering similar ideas.
If you would like to discuss any of the topics we covered in this article, please do not hesitate to contact the employment team.