At the beginning of ‘lockdown’ we all heard about this being the largest worldwide flexible working experiment we’d ever seen. I’d agree with that to some extent – huge numbers of employees that one day attended an office or workplace, got told to work remotely to protect their and their loved ones lives. But a whole lot still had to turn up to work on essential sites – hospitals, factories, stores or couldn’t work at all…
Flexible work is just that – flexible – and when we have agency (are able to choose how we work), we are happier (as highlighted in the Happy Worker Report). However, the situation we all found ourselves in wasn’t flexible – we were working remotely under a pandemic situation with significant restrictions placed upon us. I’m pretty sure none of us wanted that, didn’t negotiate the options or sign one of those 1000-page flexible working agreement documents with the 200-page WHS inspection, ergonomic audit and report that are typically found in some organisations!
We were trusted by our employer to do the right thing and simply work remotely while they worked out what to do next. And most of us are continuing to deliver fantastic outcomes in extremely trying times. Many had never worked remotely before. We were trusted to get on with it and keep delivering.
Benefits we are already seeing
There have been benefits for this forced flexibility, or remote working. Here’s some we’re seeing already.
We now have the technology that many of us longed for over many years. Technology has frequently been used as an excuse not to roll out the level of flexible working that would transform people’s lives. Suddenly, the technology was implemented for many and we had a very short sharp shock to ramp up and get used to using it.
Lack of technology to connect to one another to do our work cannot be used as an excuse anymore – we’ve just proven its not a barrier.
Reduced Commute Times
Many of us travel to get to our regular workplaces – I’ve heard of some taking two hours each way. By having to work remotely, we gained time back in our lives. I for one am thoroughly enjoying being able to add some household tasks to my work day, rather than cramming them into the weekends. In our house, we are now seeing each other to do family activities rather than playing catch up.
Plus, we are seeing levels of pollution dropping significantly all over the world, simply because there aren’t as many of us on the roads using our cars/trains/trams/buses/motorbikes.
There has been research around for many years that shows that approx. 55% of desks are unused in an office at any one time. Many organisations are now considering whether they need all those desks. Others, that have already rationalised, are wondering how they are going to manage and support a return to the workplace.
A friend who is a painter, is already working non-stop painting emptied offices of businesses who have decided to shift away from large physical offices.. I don’t believe we are at that real decision point yet, with many businesses still contemplating what their physical buildings will comprise of, but we do need to be looking at n=1 (what each employee wants, not assume their answers) and there are most probably savings – of time, of capital expenditure, of rent – to be had.
Getting some balance in your life
During this disruption, many of us have had to care or look after family members. Some have had the interesting experience of becoming a ‘home schooler’. Having some flexibility in our working day has supported us to be able to take on those extra responsibilities while still working. It’s been hard and I definitely breathed a sigh of relief when schools reopened in South Australia, but it shows that when push comes to shove we manage to somehow fit it all in. (I’m not saying we should continue with that extra pressure, as it’s not good for anyone, but for many of us we varied our hours and made it work). Flexible working can help get balance back into your life to meet life commitments.
There are also some forecast benefits from flexible work that we are yet to see:
Greater flexibility (when employees have agency or choice) usually results in less turnover of staff. While many employees are just happy to still have a job, companies must continue to enable flexible working arrangements. By really innovating the where, when and how of working moving forwards, we will see employee turnover reduce.
Support to exit and return back to the workplace
I can’t help but feel that there are lessons in remote working that we are realising right now, that could support many others in ‘normal times’. Connectivity for those leaving, on, or returning from extended leave; Talent alumnipools; flexible working models across multiple projects and work – all are possible! No more penalising people. Reintegration must be prioritised – and a great data or research topic for the future, will be how we’ve onboarded new people to our organisations during this pandemic. Pretty powerful.
Satisfaction and engagement
Greater flexibility in an organisation usually leads to greater employee satisfaction and engagement. This is also underpinned significantly by the trust we are given by our employers. Time will tell if this does eventuate.
I’ve often heard people express gratitude for having flexible work arrangements. It always concerned me as to why we needed to express gratitude. Working flexibly makes sense, even outside of pandemics. It benefits everyone, and it takes work from everyone to make it work.
I don’t hear many people expressing gratefulness for their industrial award or enterprise agreement.Flexible working should be seen similarly. It’s time to ensure that we maintain momentum for flexible working and respect and appreciate those that work flexibly.
Capitalise on this opportunity
We are in the most amazing time to really capitalise on this opportunity. Old barriers and thinking has been dislodged, and there’s space for new. If there was ever a time to really innovate flexible working and take it to the next level, it is now. Including employees in this opportunity for job redesign is very real right now.
I strongly recommend dusting off that flexible working policy, practising some co-curating of your culture – rewriting it with your employees fully included – and start flexing for the future.
The Glossary: Flexing for the Future
Flexible work is all about the When, Where and How – and any configuration of those ultimately is flexible work.
- When: Compressed/aggregated hours, job sharing, part time work, part year work, flexible shifts, term-time working, career breaks/, term time working
- Where: hot desks, virtual teams/offices, physical office, remote working, home working, teleworking,
- How: leave without pay, special leave without pay, leave at half pay, purchased leave, transitioning to retirement.
Want to explore further about flexible work? Head here