Covid-19; A Catalyst for Flexible Working?
It’s 2020 and for years everyone’s been talking about how flexible and remote working is the future, yet, it took Covid-19 to come along to really stress test that theory.
So, are we going to see an even sharper rise towards flexible and remote working? Or will there still be those that resist?
Here we’ll look at:
- The take-off of flexible working.
- Corporates adopting flexible working
- Every-day remote working in the digital space.
- Benefits of flexible and remote working.
- Myths of flexible and remote working.
1. The take-off of flexible working
When tech startups burst onto the scene, worshipping at the altar of agility and MVP (Minimal Viable Product) there was a palpable shift. These new methodologies easily translated into no-waste, slimline operations. Allowing startups to thrive on minimum budgets to eventually take on bigger players in their respective markets.
Startups fully embraced new technology not only to cut costs and improve performance but to offer a better work-life balance for the best employees they hoped to attract. Flexible working quickly became the norm for these talented workforces. Employees are accountable and trusted to get on with their jobs, using the latest technology to communicate effectively. Although born partly from necessity, it became embedded in tech startup culture.
The most innovative corporates adopted these thrifty processes and willingness to embrace now tech. They recognized that to survive, they must adapt or eventually they’d be disrupted. Not to mention, startups weren’t unknown to poach key members of staff.
In corporate land, daily scrums began and smaller crack-teams were formed within larger clunkier departments. Growth marketing teams were formed or outsourced, holding all-access passes to make changes to drive full-stack growth. An entire culture of work began undergoing a transformation.
2. Corporates and other businesses adopting flexible working
Some companies are still hiding their heads in the sand having failed to adapt to flexible working. Surprisingly, even creative industries such as advertising are still accustomed to flying employees all over the world for meetings. Train journeys for catchups at central London offices are the norm for many in the north. But this kind of demand on staff and business is often unnecessary and at worst, unreasonable. But, will this bloated way of working be taken up again once the pandemic passes? Or will we all be converts to a more “agile” way of work?
Who passes the test?
Print magazines that have survived the rise of the internet are now using all kinds of “virtual wizardry” to continue to produce editorial. Staff at The Week magazine have been “scattered to the four winds, then magically reconstituted in box rooms, bedrooms kitchens and other improvised spaces in crowded family homes, quarantined flatshares, travel taverns and light industrial estates across the country – from Sheffield to Littlehampton, Essex to Monmouth.”
Banks such as Barclays are used to having giant office floors full of staff, The majority of whom have now been working from home for weeks. But, thanks to their already being a president for staff to work from home, staff and management were able to adapt quickly.
Lisa* works in global distribution at another corporate giant, Unilever. She’s always been allowed a somewhat flexible working week. Although she’s now got kids at home to contend with, she thinks that staff haven’t found the change to be too disruptive. “My entire team has some flexible working hours. Unilever is amazing at accommodating working parents, as long as you get the job done and you’re good at what you do, you don’t need to be in the office every single day.”
Mathew has a management role at BT where it’s also normal to work from home several times per week. “Although I’m expected to travel to meetings and conferences occasionally, having the flexibility to work from home means I still get to spend quality time with my family instead of that extra time in the mornings and evenings commuting every day.”
So, if corporate monoliths like Barclays, BT and Unilever can manage the shift to flexible working, what’s stopping others from doing the same? Indeed, there are probably a great many employees that witnessed entire migrations of offices to home working now questioning why there wasn’t more flexibility for them in the first place.
First-time mum, Daisy* worked a four day week for months as she prepared to return full-time after maternity leave. She always hit her targets and had even improved her performance during her four day week. She requested to be considered for a 4.5-day working week but was refused. No reason was ever given, despite Daisy* repeatedly asking for clarification. She has now decided to look for another job.
*Names changed to protect privacy
3. Every-day remote working in the digital space
As freelance digital marketers we’ve honed the art of remote work so for us, it’s business as usual. With a large client base who are either startups or digital businesses themselves, this has never been a barrier for building strong working relationships.
We’ve built up trusted networks of professionals that get the job done, and don’t have to be in the same office as us to do it.
Right now there’s a host of free or cheap software like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Whereby, (Slack), Skype and more that allows us to hold meetings at any time of the day, from anywhere in the world. Improvements to internet speed and competition between virtual meeting technology has ensured you can talk to someone in Australia like they’re in the next room. Trust us – we do it all the time!
Even the French National Orchestra is in on the remote working action…
Sure, sometimes conference calls can experience a few hiccups which can result in frustration, hilarity or embarrassment…
But most of the time they go without a hitch as long as everyone’s internet connection is up and running. You might have to contend with some faff during setup or reconnect midway through a meeting. But it’s nothing compared to the rigmarole of organising face-to-face meetings – especially if that involves lengthy travel.
We’re not saying that ditching all face-to-face meetings is the answer – but is it really necessary for them to be the norm for any business?
Also, will it really negatively affect the performance of your company if you adopt flexible hours, or if staff are allowed to work from home occasionally? Chances are if you think so, it’s just in your head.
4. Benefits of flexible and remote working
Remote and flexible working can be great for all kinds of reasons including:
- Saves on overheads
- Reduces expenses for travel
- Gives companies more flexibility in who they hire. Want the best? Hire the best! It doesn’t matter where you’re based
- Better for the environment
- Better quality of life for employees, lowering stress levels and improving mood
- More streamlined processes
- Increases trust when you have the right teams
- You’re ready in case of a crisis
5. Myths of flexible and remote working
Often, these assumptions are mostly based on fear, dogma and personal preference. A few of the most cited objections are…
Productivity will drop
This is always a clanger because it flies in the face of the facts. Study after study shows flexible working improves productivity. And, the longer your hourly working week, the less productive you are. In fact, long hours can lead to stress, health issues and making errors.
People who want to work from home are lazy
This is another form of “flexibility stigma” says Emma De Vita in the Financial Times. A survey conducted by Deloitte and Timewise (a recruitment consultancy) found 30% of flexible workers felt they were regarded as less important, and 25% said they were given fewer opportunities than colleagues who worked conventional hours. 25% also thought they’d missed out on promotion.
Since we’ve already established that flexible working generally makes people more productive, companies are clearly losing out here.
Company culture will suffer
As we’ve seen, it is possible for many companies that traditionally operate in office environments to adapt quickly. Happier employees generally make for a happier working environment. But if people are repeatedly refused flexible working for arbitrary reasons, company culture suffers.
As businesses large and small the world over are innovating more quickly than ever in order to survive the global pandemic, what will this mean for flexible working?
Due to kids being off schools, it’s probably fair to say that there are a lot of people dying to get back to their relatively undisturbed offices. If your business isn’t used to conference calls and hasn’t yet settled on the best tech to host them, it’s also likely you’ll have suffered from teething problems in this area too.
But when flexible and remote working is a choice, and not foisted upon us by global events out of our control, it takes on a different dimension. Companies that were previously resistant may find even more excuses to put off flexible work once the pandemic is over. But many savvier ones will see the light in terms of how they can make this work for their employees, and themselves.
After a few months of practising, hopefully, a new, less suspicious attitude to flexible working will emerge.
We’d love to know what you think about flexible working, and if Covid-19 will have a long term impact on the traditional office. Let us know!