Should You Offer Flexible Working After Lockdown?
Very few events are as likely to change the working world as the COVID-19 pandemic. So how might lockdown change things?
The three-month lockdown has already seen seismic shifts in the way every industry carries out its daily activities and communicates with its clients and teams.
As businesses gradually begin to reopen, the new workplace will probably look very different to how we’ve always known it. Social distancing measures, added hygiene protocols and general safety concerns will now be a firm priority; even doing the tea round may become a thing of the past!
But beyond these practical concerns, there’s a wider cultural shift at play. Earlier this month, mobile network O2, in partnership with ICM and YouGov, released a new report claiming that employees will be reluctant to give up their new way of working after lockdown.
The research found that 45% of Brits predict a permanent change to their employers’ approach to flexible working, while a staggering 81% expect to work from home at least one day a week when lockdown lifts.
In a separate survey conducted by Direct Line, 44% of respondents said that working from home – at least part of the time – should be a permanent option. But these statistics are hardly surprising. From an employee’s perspective, lockdown has been a challenge that has also brought a multitude of benefits.
While childcare has presented a logistical nightmare for many, it’s also allowed an opportunity for a far greater work life balance than we’ve ever experienced before. It’s enabled us to slow down a little, take more exercise, spend time in the garden or on creative projects, manage our time better, spend time with family (in the same household, of course!) and generally improve our wellbeing.
The lack of a long daily commute and the frustrations of sitting in rush-hour traffic has also been a tremendous blessing for the third of the UK’s workforce who work more than 30 minutes away from home.
For others, not having to use jam-packed public transport every day has been a welcome relief, particularly as so many are now concerned over the safety of taking a crowded tube or train.
Of course, there are many roles where working from home permanently, or even part of the time, simply won’t be possible, and as an employer, you’re not obligated to offer any permanent working from home options when lockdown lifts – provided you ensure robust new hygiene and social distancing protocols are embedded in your workplace.
So should you provide more flexible working options for your employees post-lockdown? Here are 5 reasons why it might not be a bad idea:
#1. IT COULD GIVE YOU A COMPETITIVE EDGE
The research above, coupled with rapidly changing trends in employment practices, suggests that competition to attract and retain staff could greatly intensify post-lockdown. Businesses will be competing hard to offer better benefits, so for many companies, it’s more a case of whether they can afford not to offer home working, than whether they should.
#2. IT COULD LEAD TO HAPPIER STAFF (AND PROFIT MARGINS)
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we’d already begun to see a shift in working culture, with employees demanding a work experience that’s more closely aligned with their values and personally meaningful to their individual circumstances.
In fact, since 2013, employees have had the right to request flexible working hours and what’s more, a Vodafone UK study launched at the same time found that businesses can save an estimated £34 billion by embracing flexible working.
#3. IT COULD REDUCE ABSENCE
In 2014, the cost of sickness absence in the British workforce was estimated at £16 billion. Offering employees the opportunity to work from home more could significantly improve workforce engagement and commitment, boost morale and lead to a greater sense of wellbeing – and therefore, fewer sick days.
#4. IT FOSTERS CREATIVITY
Flexible working helps to build organisations that creative, agile and innovative. If you have the technology in place to promote and support flexible working (there are now some tremendous tools available), do use them – or could you perhaps introduce an office cover rotation system?
Shifting to new ways of flexible working requires your SME to not only embrace the possibilities offered by technology, but to establish careful modelling of employee and management behaviours based on trust and fairness.
#5. IT COULD DRIVE INNOVATION IN YOUR BUSINESS
Millennials currently dominate the workplace, yet only 29% of them claim to be engaged. If you’re keen to attract and retain the best talent, then you need to understand that millennials are driven more by purpose than financial reward. They expect to be equipped with the same technology they use for personal communication to drive their productivity and innovation in the workplace.
Whether you choose a compressed work week, a flexible daily schedule (particularly around childcare), a staggered office cover arrangement or a regular day (or days) where employees can be home-based each week, it’s a big decision and there are lots of things to consider.
Whatever you choose to do, as an employer you need to be clear on your expectations and implement measurable goals supported by a structured set of guidelines. You’ also need to support and manage the expectations of all your employees, and accept that for some roles and employees, flexible working may not be appropriate.
Demonstrating that you’re a flexible, friendly employer who understands the needs of your workforce post-lockdown will help your business to attract and retain talent and be far more agile and responsive to your customers’ needs.
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