31 Jul 2020
Writing for King's College London, our Evidence Officer, Nayyara Tabassum, writes about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted flexible working for workers.
In the UK, as soon as the lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson in his televised address on 23 March 2020, one of the first things a lot of employers did was to announce that all staff would need to start working flexibly, with immediate effect. Overnight, companies that did not even have a flexible working policy, reviewed their policies and allowed employees to start working from home.
While research has always shown the business benefits of flexible working on employee productivity and wellbeing, there was not enough buy-in from employers and there were lots of misconceptions and stigma attached to flexible working.
Now with the COVID-19 outbreak, employers have wholeheartedly adopted technology for staff to continue working remotely during lockdown. Job sectors, such as the insurance and banking sectors, which were previously quite averse to flexible working, also allowed staff to work flexibly during the lockdown. The results of this flexible working experiment thanks to the pandemic was that a lot of job sectors are now acknowledging that businesses can continue as usual even when staff work flexibly from home.
Meetings, workshops and webinars can all be held via digital technology. A lot of employers will also now find that trips abroad to attend a seminar may well be substituted by a webinar attendance. At the Centre for Ageing Better, we have always had a flexible working policy. We organise fun events like an online pub quiz every Friday where staff can come together for some light-hearted fun or a chat.
However, none of these work from home challenges are insurmountable. Centre for Ageing Better is working with Timewise and employers to support flexible working for older workers. Employers need to be cognisant of their staff work from home needs and need to adapt accordingly to support their staff. For example, part-time working hours for those with caring responsibilities, or providing technological equipment or gadgets to help staff work from home, are examples of some good employee practices.
The UK always entitled workers to request flexible working. But a lot of employers and employees were hesitant to adopt flexible working. The day may not be far when the laws are changed after the pandemic is over to make flexible working policy a default for most employers. Even if the laws are unchanged, the COVID-19 lockdown has made flexible working acceptable, shown what’s possible and perhaps even make it a norm for employers to allow their staff flexible working policies.
If the coronavirus lockdown has shown us one thing, it is that almost all jobs can be adapted for flexible working patterns. Engineers can work flexibly. Podcast talk show hosts can work flexibly. Banks have allowed staff to work flexibly.
In fact, any job that requires the use of a computer has no excuse to not allow remote or flexible working to employees. Post-COVID, all events or meetings must also provide web links for inclusive joining by those working remotely.
Despite lockdowns gradually being lifted, Google and Facebook have extended flexible working for their employees. In the near future, this experiment with flexible working due to the COVID-19 lockdown may result in more employers and businesses actively adopting and benefitting from a flexible work policy.