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Why should flexible working be the norm?

Today, Friday 19th June, the charity Working Families is encouraging us to join together to make flexible working the rule, not the exception, under the banner of #flextheUK.  This is absolutely a campaign we stand behind at How Do You Do It.  For 14 years, we have been working with working mums and dads, and more recently carers too, to help them to find their way to successfully manage work and family commitments, for the benefit of them and the organisations they work in.

I recently attended a webinar delivered by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership looking at the topic of flexibility where they shared an interesting piece of data.  In 2019, 30% of the UK workforce had had some experience of working from home – I suspect that a significant portion of this were working parents and carers.  To date, this 30% have been the exception, often having to individually work out how to make it work, potentially dealing with managers and teams who don’t understand, trying to fit their way of working into a corporate world designed for office based workers working standard, full time working hours.

At this point in 2020, for many businesses the proportion of their workforce with experience of working from home has risen to 100%, quite a shift in a short time.  Working from home is only one version of what is flexible working.   I have always liked the CIPD’s definition of Flexible Working as ‘a type of working arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what times employees work’.  Now that a global pandemic has forced companies into making significant changes, rather than return to the traditional model, should flexible working become the norm?

YES, definitely YES.

Why? There are many reasons so I will highlight three where there is a clear benefit for both business and individuals;

  1. Businesses need employees to be productive and deliver good work, much as we as individuals want to work when we can be at our best, striking this balance may not fit a 9-5 pattern.  A daily long commute may mean I do not arrive at my place of work at my most productive.  Trying to fit caring for others to a traditional work pattern may mean I am not at my best.  By allowing flexibility in approach both individuals and employers gain.  The webinar shared interesting data gathered during lockdown.  Although working from home was stressful, many people had increased sleep levels and therefore when tested, increased cognitive ability so performed work tasks more effectively.
  2. Flexible working allows many people to maintain their place in the labour market and from a business perspective, to retain a diverse range of skills. It also allows businesses to access a range of skills that they couldn’t e.g. many small businesses, as they grow, employ part time individuals to bring in skills they couldn’t afford or don’t need full time.
  3. Work does not always flow in a consistent pattern over a year in the same way that neither does people’s ability to consistently work 9-5. For example, many parents do find managing school holidays difficult and want to spend time with their children.  Annualised hours arrangements allow businesses to have access to employees when the work demands are there and employees to flex to support their families.

Covid-19 forced many businesses to quickly change their traditional ways of working and challenge long held beliefs about the way work should be organised.  We hope that one silver lining to come from this time is that flexible working is no longer seen as the exception, a ‘perk’ for a few, but a strategy for successful business.

Post by Clair Hodgson EMEA Director

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