Flexible working – from perk to expectation

Many business are starting to open up again, and leaders assessing the balance between office and home working. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 1998 11% of the UK’s workforce were homeworkers. By January 2020 this had risen to 14.3%, and by April, as the government introduced social distance rules, nearly half the UK workforce were working from home. Once a perk, flexible working is now an expectation and we will need to adapted to new ways of working and embed the learning into flexible working. 

Workers enjoyed flexibility around when they worked and more time as they avoided a daily commute. Employers benefited from improved productivity and better team relations as leaders got a glimpse into the home life of their employees. So what might this mean for our future workplace and workforce?

The role of the office 

I don’t believe the offices will become a thing of the past. After initially considered removing office space completely, business conversations have moved on. They are, instead thinking about the benefits and value of collocating teams. Greater value comes not from the ability to supervise employees, rather improved collaboration, social interaction and teamwork.

To benefit however we need to redesign of our office. Less shared workstation and hot desking, and more space for collaboration and drop in areas. It is also an opportunity to focus outdoor spaces, healthy food options, and relaxation zones. All designed to encourage collaboration, team working and mental well being.

Working from Home

It’s highly likely we will see more people working from home. It isn’t acceptable for employees to work off the kitchen table, rather employees and companies need to ensure we have healthy workspaces at home. This includes natural lighting, equipment to perform specific activities and practical considerations around health and safety, and data security.

Greater numbers working from home has already exposed where an organisation’s technology works well and where it’s not so good. So be ready for investment in technology that supports virtual working and office working. Some investment in the office space will inevitably be focused on the reintegration of workers such as footfall counters, and movement sensors for lights, doors or even toilet flushes. Other investments directed at collaboration and team working.

Another exciting prospect from this greater flexibility on when and where we work, is recruitment. It will open up new talent pools on geographical basis and for those with more complex disabilities or caring responsibilities. 

Benefits 

As we move to greater balance between office and home working, I suggest a little thought is given to employee benefits and the value we place on office based perks such as a gym or cafe.  It’s time to reflect on how accessible and therefore valuable the current benefits will be in a new world of flexible working. 

This is an exciting time for people managers, and a time to be creative and commercial. Rethinking the office space and opportunities for more flexible working could unlock a number of benefits – for the environment, work life balance, productivity and well being.