Wave of Flexible Working Requests Predicted

HR directors expect 70% of their workforce will have flexible working once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, a 45% increase on current levels.

More than 13 million people across the UK plan to ask their employer for changes to their long-term working pattern, according to research from Direct Line Life.

HR is therefore already preparing to receive more flexible working requests once the pandemic has eased, with over two fifths (43%) of HR directors giving the option to work from home five days a week. 

Cost of travel and being at work was a key reason behind changing working styles for around a third (31%) of people, as well as commuting time at 23%. 

More than a quarter (28%) of those hoping for more long-term flexible working said they have demonstrated they can do this successfully during the pandemic, a sentiment no doubt shared up and down the country. 

Spending more time with family and wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle was also cited as a key reason for the change.

One in six said they were concerned over pollution levels and 5% said they plan to spend more time exercising and becoming healthier. 

Chloe Couper, business manager at Direct Line Life insurance, said coronavirus has changed the mindset of millions of workers in the UK. 

She said: “Many people wouldn’t have considered their employer would accept a flexible working request, despite it being legal to make one but now companies and employees have become used to home working as the ‘new norm.’ 

“Going through such a serious pandemic will understandably make some people want to reassess their lives and priorities going forward. Protecting health and family are vital and it is great to see so many wish to spend more time doing both.” 

Working from home two days a week was the most popular option when looking to carry on flexible working arrangements.

Given office space is a large cost for most businesses, the opportunity for more staff to work remotely may reduce overheads for organisations. 

Research was collected by Opinium among a nationally representative sample of 2,002 UK adults in April and by Pure Profile of 100 UK HR directors.

Is This the End of Office Life?
July 17, 2020
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By Bobby Palmer

The sudden boom in remote working has raised a flurry of questions surrounding a return to “normal” working life and the purpose of the workplace as we know it.

The office of the future looked very different five months ago. In January, Facebook announced plans to hire 1,000 staff members to fill their new £1-billion London HQ. But by May, the company had said half their future workforce will be permanently remote.

End of the office

This is just one example of how the coronavirus pandemic has blown apart companies’ conceptions of “the office”. Barclays boss Jes Staley has said “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”, while Shopify founder and chief executive Tobi Lütke tweeted his company will become digital by default. “Office centricity is over,” he proclaimed.

Flexible working is nothing new. A survey of 229 organisations by US research firm Gartner found 30 per cent of employees were already working from home at least some of the time before COVID-19 struck. Since the pandemic began, that number has jumped as high as 80 per cent.

“I think that somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back,” says Rich McBee, chief executive of remote network performance specialists Riverbed. With this in mind, it’s hard to disagree with Lütke’s hypothesis, but if office centricity is over, what does that mean for the office?

The workplace in the age of flexible working

“A lot of the trends that were on the way anyway have massively accelerated,” says John Drummond, chairman of workplace strategy experts Corporate Culture. “We’re going to see several short-term, pragmatic changes and one is that more people will work from home.”

This could mean an end to the classic command-and-control method of working, especially as flexible working seems to improve employee productivity, specifically in Generation-Z staffers, 60 per cent of whom have become more productive during lockdown, according to a study by Milkround.

Somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back

“I think you’re going to see flexible hours and output-based work versus hourly work,” says McBee. “What enables that is having at-office capability in your home office or from wherever you’re working.”

That means investment in connectivity and networks for those working flexible or compressed hours, as well as increased collaboration between employers and employees on the potential health pitfalls of remote working, such as burnout or back pain. Just last month, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai announced plans to provide workers with a $1,000 grant for at-home office equipment and furniture.

“The ‘individual cube’ of yesterday can be your home office,” says McBee. “It’s private, you’re working, you’re concentrated. Then, when it’s time to collaborate, the human-to-human interface will be done in a pseudo-office environment.”

Drummond says this presents a phenomenal opportunity for companies to reinvent the workplace in a work-from-home world. “The key question is what is the workplace for?” he says. “There’s a massive new opportunity for interior designers and architects, not just for the design of office spaces, but for the design of entire communities, neighbourhoods and cities.”

Designing the office of the future

If the office of the future looked different five months ago, try ten years. From Google’s sleep pods to Apple’s on-site wellness centre, the old future office was designed for people spending all their time at work. Now organisations are having to rethink office design for employees who want to spend more time at home.

“Companies may choose spaces which are more about collaboration than focused work, so I think we might see a proportion of desk space decrease,” says Guenaelle Watson, managing director of office consultants 360 Workplace. “These spaces could become more agile, collaborative work areas programmed for different teams to use.”

With offices being reimagined as creative meeting spaces and most desk work being done remotely, technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams will be at the forefront of keeping the future workplace connected.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella recently said his company has seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months; that’s because this digital change has been born out of adapt-or-die necessity, which will only continue to be the case in a post-COVID-19 world.

Thus, the need to return to hygienic workspaces will be one of the key drivers in digital workplace design. “We’ll see people not wanting to touch things in offices,” Watson explains. “That means the office, in time, may become contactless. You’ll be using voice recognition to open doors or apps to get yourself a coffee.”

In a world where the technology is improving every day, the physical space is becoming less and less important for forward-thinking and better-connected companies. Although meeting colleagues in a virtual reality office may still seem like a sci-fi concept, it’s not as far off as once thought.

“I think technology will get us to a point where that notion of physical location becomes a real question mark,” says Justin Westcott, European head of technology and chief operating officer for UK and Ireland at Edelman. “If you think about where we’re heading with 5G and latency, the doubling of performance in virtual reality in two years, while the costs half, that notion of the office increasingly becoming augmented is something I can see happening.”

Real estate and the digital office

“In a business like ours, our assets are our people and the office is the biggest overhead.” That’s why, when COVID-19 struck during early conversations about Edelman’s new London office, it was an opportunity for the company to interrogate what the modern workplace is for.

“There is always going to be a requirement for people to come together,” says Westcott. “Starbucks used to call themselves the ‘third space’ and I can see the office becoming the third space: you’re going to have your home, your home office and then the office.”

If the office does indeed become the third space, fixed desks could be done away with entirely, as could the traditional nine to five. “I think the notion of a ‘day in the office’ may be in question,” says Westcott. “It might be you come into an office for a ‘thing’, a task, a meeting, then you head out to wherever you want to get your work done.”

Leaders like Westcott and Watson see the office of the future as a place where employees meet, socialise and seek out the sort of spontaneous interactions video meetings don’t allow for. Interestingly, both see the office of the future looking something like a hotel lobby.

Somewhere between 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce that was previously in a workplace will not be coming back

Yet with temporary providers such as Zipcube and Spaces becoming evermore popular with startups of the WeWork generation, many will ask if these lobby-like office spaces are merely precursors to a world without offices at all.

Unlikely, Watson says. “Not having an office at all would be difficult and you’d struggle to create a strong company culture,” she explains. “You can deliver the work from home, but it won’t fulfil the human need for interaction.”

Instead, Watson foresees two potential trends for those looking to reinvent their working environment in the flexible-working world. Organisations will either repurpose some of their desk space into collaboration or wellness areas, or they’ll opt to trade in one larger central headquarters for a number of smaller, perhaps regional, hubs.

Which fulfils Lütke’s prophecy, in its own way. Office centricity is indeed over, but the office itself isn’t dead quite yet.

Author Avatar
Bobby Palmer

Freelance lifestyle and culture journalist, with work published in GQ, Time Out, Men’s Health, Esquire and Cosmopolitan.

Employers Must Provide Flexibility to Support Ageing Workforce
July 2, 2020
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The following article by Rachel Muller-Heyndyk, was published in HR Magazine

The government has called on employers to make accommodations for older employees, with research revealing support for more flexible and part-time role

The research, commissioned from Saga Populus, found that when asked what measures employers should implement to make workplaces more welcoming, respondents most commonly cited offering part-time roles (73%). Additionally more than three in five (63%) suggested that employers need to get better at offering training and retraining schemes to help older workers with upskilling and new technology.

More than three-fifths (65%) felt that an ageing and diverse society is a positive thing that should be celebrated.

However, they were mindful of some of the challenges this also presents. For example, nearly nine in 10 (87%) over-50s were aware that health and social care services need to be redesigned to support an ageing population. They believed the cost of this must be borne across all generations, with three-quarters (75%) stating the need for people of all ages to take increased responsibility for planning and preparing financially for living longer.

The research was commissioned as part of the government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge, which is calling for businesses to promote the benefits of hiring older workers and to recognise that flexible working arrangements are key. As part of the strategy, the government is investing £300 million to develop technologies to support the ageing workforce.

Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that flexible working could allow older workers time for care responsibilities and personal health needs. Read more

Freedom of Choice to Prevail in post-COVID-19 Work Styles
June 25, 2020
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Employees will want more freedom in where they choose to work following the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) found since the introduction of mandatory remote working, many employees had the chance to exercise more, spend time with family and time to think and reflect.

Almost two thirds (62%) of people said they wanted to work from home more on a regular basis. 

Some respondents discussed wanting to spend the majority of their time at home, or have an equal split between home and office. 

Of those who said they wanted to work from home more often generally, more than a quarter (27%) of them wanted to do so more than one day per week. 

Gemma Dale, lecturer at LJMU and report author, said HR now risked employees leaving if it did not offer more flexible working choices.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “There is a potential risk that where this demand to work from home isn’t met and requests are turned down, employees may choose to seek an employer that will allow them more flexibility in their working lives. 

“An economic recession may lead to a depressed job market – so these implications may take some time to be felt, unlike morale and employee engagement which could take an immediate hit.”

Yet Dale said a lack of flexibility in some organisations can create opportunities in others.

She added: “I do however think there is an opportunity for those organisations that do need to recruit now – if they can allow some homeworking on an ongoing basis it can be a talent acquisition opportunity, especially where employees feel that their current employer won’t be supportive.” 

The research recommended that more employers should consider home working to support employee wellbeing, reduce the carbon footprint of commuting, attract and retain talented employees, support the reduction of the gender pay gap and improve productivity. 

The research authors therefore said that where workplaces should help employees set up effective workspaces. 

Many employees noted a lack of hardware such as printers and monitors while working from home, plus using unsuitable desks and chairs given many are sharing spaces with family and using home spaces such as kitchen. 

The study has led to a series of recommendations for HR to prepare for the increase in demand for homeworking.

These included taking feedback from employees about challenges and benefits, determining an overall approach for homeworking and reviewing flexible working and homeworking policies. 

The survey also pointed to practical challenges of the pandemic such as technology, appropriate work spaces, childcare, home-schooling and stress and anxiety. 

Dale added: “We didn’t see a significant amount of people saying they were working longer hours, although there were challenges around establishing boundaries between work and home. This did not however seem to have dissuaded them from doing more homeworking.” 

Yet despite these challenges, many respondents had experienced more flexibility and freedom and wanted to retain it, the report’s authors said. 

The survey ran for three weeks in May and early June and had over 500 responses, generating 3,000 qualitative responses. 

Is Flexibility the Key to the Modern-Day Workforce?
December 6, 2019
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The concept of flexible working arrangements has been a game-changer in recent years, allowing workers to meet personal responsibilities while still fulfilling the requirements of their role.

Is Flexible Working Key To Attracting New Talent?

A flexible working arrangement usually refers to where the work is completed from (i.e., from home or the office) and when it is done. While the list of benefits is exhaustive, there are also potential pitfalls to be wary of. We take a look at both sides.

Advantages
A shortcut to a better work-life balance 

Flexibility in hours can help workers at any age or with any type of lifestyle. Working to a schedule or from a location that benefits the worker can allow people to live regionally and still work in capital cities, and it can give parents the opportunity to spend more time with family. Those with mental health issues can greatly benefit from a more flexible schedule. Lessening the pressure of these everyday life stressors can lead to better focus while at work. 

Time saved on commuting 

The time saved on a commute gives people extra hours each week that would usually be spent travelling to and from the premises. Even the introduction of flexible hours can reduce commute time, as employees aren’t required to travel at peak times.

Morale and productivity

Improved morale is the biggest positive involved with flexible working. Giving workers more choice in how they organise their working week has links to higher enjoyment at work, as well as increasing productivity. By offering flexibility in contact hours, employees feel more in control of their schedule and can better meet their health, social and family needs. 

Financial benefits for the business 

Companies who encourage flexible working arrangements often increase their revenue through less personal leave taken by workers. Better morale generally translates into a lower staff turnover and thus reducing hiring costs.

Disadvantages
Complacency

This one really depends on the type of person and level of accountability required in the role. Working from home or in the office at times that others are not around does sound enticing; however, it’s all too easy to use work hours to attend to household chores or personal errands. It can be a great exercise in discipline for those easily distracted.

Remote collaboration can come with its challenges 

Despite technology allowing workplaces to communicate from anywhere, some meetings, pitches or critical interviews are best done in person. The extent of these challenges does come down to the type of person, how outgoing they are and how comfortable they are contributing to meetings over video or phone.  

Switching off takes more discipline

Sitting on the couch under a blanket or working with a cuppa on the porch can be just the thing to meet a big deadline. However, bringing work into the home environment can make it difficult to draw a line between working hours and relaxation time. The same goes for having flexible hours — some may find it difficult to switch off and not remain contactable at all times.  

Bill Introduced to Make all Jobs Flexible by Default
July 19, 2019
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Advertising all roles as flexible could help close the gender pay gap, assist parents to share childcare, and better support older workers say experts

A bill requiring employers to make all jobs flexible by default was introduced by Conservative deputy chairman and MP for Faversham and Mid Kent Helen Whately in Parliament on 16 July and was given approval to go to a second reading on 17 July.

Whately said that unless employers have a sound business reason for having specific working hours all jobs should be advertised as flexible.

It would help close the gender pay gap, assist parents to share childcare and help businesses retain staff, Whately explained.

“The 40-hour five-day working week made sense in an era of single-earner households and stay-at-home mums, but it no longer reflects the reality of how many modern families want to live their lives,” she said.

She added that a lack of flexible working reinforces gender stereotypes around work:

“At the moment too many women are reluctantly dropping out of work or going part time after having children because their employers won’t allow them flexibility. This entrenches the assumption that men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers,” she said.

“As a result men don’t get to spend as much time as they might like with their children, women miss out on career opportunities, and the country loses out on the contribution they could and would like to make – if only they could do slightly different hours or work some days from home.”

Ella Smillie, head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society, gave her backing to the bill.

“We urge MPs to give Helen Whately’s bill the support it deserves. Ensuring that employers offer flexible working would open up new jobs to a whole raft of people who want to work alongside carrying out caring responsibilities or simply achieving a better work/life balance,” she said.

“There are also clear benefits to employers: offering flexible working to employees creates a stronger, loyal and more diverse workforce, which pays dividends.”

Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that the move could also be invaluable in supporting older workers, who may find it difficult to stay in work because of health problems and caring responsibilities. “We welcome calls to consider making flexible working the default for every job. The most common reasons people leave work before state pension age include managing caring responsibilities or health conditions, and flexible working is effective in helping balance these with staying in work,” he said.

“Office for National Statistics data out today shows older workers continue to be the fastest-growing age group, so we can’t afford to wait on this. There were a quarter of a million more over-50s in work last year,” he added. “But we know many people struggle with inflexible working practices that can result in them leaving work before they are ready. That’s bad for them as individuals – affecting their earnings and social connections – and bad for the UK economy as employers lose out on the skills and experience older workers can bring.

“We need to move towards flexible working being the default, and for employers to take action to support everyone to work in a way that suits them best.”

Joeli Brearley, founder and director of Pregnant Then Screwed, said it’s clear that flexible working is better for people and the economy: “This is good for our economy, good for business and good for humans. We know that 96% of employers already offer some form of flexible working, but only 11% of jobs state flexible working options. This means those with caring responsibilities, or other needs that require flexible working, feel unable to apply for positions that would otherwise make good use of their skills and expertise. It means we are not making the best use of our labour force and a lack of good-quality flexible working is the key cause of the gender pay gap,” she said.

“I don’t think there is a single employer that would argue that flexible working isn’t good for productivity. Time and time again the research shows this, we just need a culture shift – led by the government – to encourage employers to think about how a job can be done flexibly before they recruit.”