Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, a vast proportion of the workforce have been forced into flexible or remote working – whether they like it or not. For some it’s been a dream come true, no more packing onto a busy train like sardines, or office politics. For others it’s been isolating and has had a significant negative impact on their mental and sometimes physical health. Not to mention the swathes of people who would perhaps just like some kind of happy medium.
Some have lauded the new set up as an acceleration of progress towards a flexible, agile workforce. We think it’s important to acknowledge that the current remote working set up, is not really the same as flexible working. As mentioned, the biggest distinction being that there’s not a lot of choice. Employees are having to balance multiple responsibilities (home schooling anyone?!) in their home where they may not have a dedicated or even appropriate workspace. All this during a high-stress global event that is causing even the more privileged a lot of concerns over things like job security and personal finances, not to mention our health and that of our loved ones.
Once the pandemic is over, the general consensus seems to be that the balance will be in favour of remote working and increased flexibility on an ongoing basis – businesses will struggle to justify why it doesn’t work for lots of roles with a year (or more) of practice, and we expect those who have enjoyed it to signal their intentions to remain remote at least part of their working time.
We don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to predict the future, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we are anecdotally hearing a lot of people reassessing their work/life balance and priorities. Therefore, it may be inevitable that we will see more flexible working requests that include remote working, more meetings with some or all participants on screen, and more use of resources like Teams and Slack to manage work. But should we all immediately downsize our workplaces or offices? We think it’s still a little too soon to tell for most businesses.
What we can start doing though is getting prepared, making sure our policies and practices are fit for purpose and suitable for remote and flexible workers, thinking about what technology is working well (and not so well) for your business, and looking at your organisational structure to identify where we might need more face to face interaction on a regular basis, or where remote working could make activities more efficient and effective. Alongside this, one of the key elements will be to upskill managers to ensure they have the people skills to manage a remote and flexible workforce – many have been muddling through quite successfully given the current situation, but that doesn’t mean that in the long term this is fair to them, or that muddling through will be enough.
We’re excited to see what changes will have stuck this time next year, and what impact this will have had on the day-to-day lives of employees – hopefully for the better.
For support with your remote teams and any issues that come up within them, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.