Is Coronavirus the catalyst that flexible working initiatives needed?

The spread of the coronavirus has changed working patterns in the UK and has pushed organisations to put flexible working into practice, not just into job descriptions - but will the UK lockdown lead to permanent change?

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The spread of the coronavirus has changed working patterns in the UK and has pushed organisations to put flexible working into practice, not just into job descriptions. With that in mind, it’s time to shine some light on the disparity between theory and practice when it comes to flexible working.

Invisible barriers

Everyone has different definitions of flexible working. Put simply, it is the individual’s ability to fit work around life, dictated by the organisation that they work for. I’m sure most HR departments weren’t expecting that sometimes, ‘life’ meant periods of ‘self-isolation’ when they were formulating their flexible working policy.

COVID-19 has forced many HR departments and line managers to rethink their definitions of flexible working. At what sort of pace would these initiatives have developed if it weren’t for this recent outbreak?

Invisible barriers to working flexibly clearly exist to some degree in many businesses. Organisations have been taken by surprise by the extent of change which will be required, which has exposed the inadequate infrastructure many have for truly flexible working.

True flexibility?

Underpinning almost all concerns over flexible working is the notion that it’s a treat which cannot be practiced regularly by everyone. With some feeling it's a 'feel free to make your home and work life fit around each other, providing it fits with ours and everyone else’s'. Which presents the question: is true flexible working a mythical being only ever seen in job descriptions?

Due to the necessary measures being put in place across organisations to combat the spread of COVID-19, we have been placed into a state where our work must be performed remotely for a few weeks or even longer.

We are quickly learning and adapting methods and styles of remote working. If these experiments yields results that resemble ‘business as usual’, the argument for true flexible working will be strengthened and the path already paved.

This will, hopefully, provide the impetus for employers to quickly develop the capacity for employees to work from home more widely.

A permanent change?

Organisations will need to make reasonable adjustments to ensure their workforce can operate remotely in the coming weeks and months, but whether these adjustments will be permanent or temporary solutions is another question entirely.

If productivity not only holds steady, but is improved by employees working remotely, then the case for greater investment into flexible working will be made. Despite numerous studies and anecdotes showing an increase in productivity, it seems that organisations need to see improvement first hand before they’re willing to make it a priority.

Conclusion

Employees should no longer feel guilty about flexible working. The workforce can turn the coronavirus into a positive opportunity to transform a long-anticipated initiative into standard practice. If remote working works, we will witness the rewards as employees respond positively to genuine autonomy and thrive as independent individuals.

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Matt Phipps headshot
Matt Phipps
Principal Consultant

Matt is one of the leaders of the HR consultancy practice at Consultancy+. He has a keen interest in driving positive change in organisations’, delivering projects that add genuine value to people strategies.

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