Since the COVID-19 government-enforced lockdown was announced, non-essential businesses have been forced to work from home. For companies without flexible working policies already in place, this meant a great deal of panic in trying to get staff set up to work from home. As lockdown restrictions ease, many businesses may be considering adopting a flexible working policy even after COVID-19, while others will be eager to get all employees in the office for the foreseeable future.
Flexible working does have its benefits, but like many other work policies, it only works when done properly – proven by the difficulties experienced by many workers during lockdown. We outline five disadvantages of flexible working after lockdown, and how you can mitigate these potential setbacks and get all the benefits that come with flexibility.
This is true. It can be difficult to keep track of employees when they’re not in the office. Many employers become concerned by this, worrying that employees given the freedom to work from home will take advantage of it. However, not being able to effectively manage and monitor employees when they’re working remotely highlights an operational issue, rather than a problem with flexible working itself.
In the midst of COVID-19, management issues were inevitable. Businesses with entirely on-premise processes and operations were sure to feel the pressure. However, as this Independent article points out, what’s happening to businesses during this time isn’t flexible working, but an emergency response to a global pandemic – it’s not a blueprint for the future of work. Just because you’ve had trouble managing and tracking your workers under lockdown, does not mean that allowing workers to be flexible in the future would bring the same result.
When properly planned and executed with the right resources, flexible working is a great way to better prepare your business for if such a situation were to ever occur again. Flexible working allows your business to be more agile; requiring you to change the way you measure work. Instead of focusing on where employees are and the hours they work, monitor them based on what they actually achieve.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been concern amongst both employees and employers that working from home would lead to a dip in productivity; and sometimes, this is true. While working from home during lockdown, employees may be distracted by things they wouldn’t be in the office, such as children, pets and other family members, and adjusting to this can be difficult. Additionally, working from home doesn’t work for everyone, and some people will need to be in an office separate from their home in order to do their best work.
But what about those who do their best work away from the office?
Research shows that for some employees, flexible working offers a motivation to be more productive at work. It allows employees to manage their own times and schedules, meaning that other commitments in their home life no longer have to take a back seat to their work. When employees are trusted to work from home, you’ll find that you may even get more out of them.
This is the concept behind agile working, where work is an activity, rather than a place. Advocates of agile working suggest that when employees have the freedom to work wherever and whenever they choose they are much more productive than if constrained by the traditional 9 to 5. However, adopting this way of working requires much more than a simple process update; it needs a change in company culture – which can be daunting for some employers.
Many employers across the country felt the financial sting of investing a significant amount into allowing employees to work from home during COVID-19, and it’s likely that many of them won’t be willing to do it again. Depending on your industry, it could be difficult and expensive to enable your employees to work remotely. You may have to provide them with portable equipment, or train them on how to access internal systems when out of the office, and these costs can easily mount up.
However, in order for a business to adapt, and move forward, investing into these systems and training is key, and while it will require money in the short term, enabling employees to work smarter will more than pay for itself in the long term. Technology that facilitates remote working away from the office is needed now more than ever, as it means your business will be less impacted by drastic changes in the future, and even reduce office operating costs.
Even when businesses invest in the technology necessary to facilitate flexible working and communication, there is still fear that when employees aren’t in the office, they won’t communicate as often with others. This is a valid concern, as when working from home, it can be easy for employees to isolate themselves, or not communicate as often as they would otherwise, which can lead to long term problems both for the employees themselves and you, as an employer.
In order to avoid this, it’s important to recognise that just because employees may choose to work flexibly, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be part of wider communications throughout the team – whether it is work related or not.
Implementing the collaboration tools necessary for employees to communicate and socialise effectively is key in overcoming this flexible working barrier, such as video conferencing and instant messaging platforms. While face-to-face interaction will always be required, using technology where you can will facilitate better communication between colleagues – whether they’re in the workplace or not.
When it comes to allowing employees to work remotely, or from home, research shows that many employers don’t realise they have health and safety obligations if staff are working from home, and it can be tricky for employers to understand what their responsibilities are in relation to remote workers. For employers who have employees regularly working from home, you may need to do assessments to ensure their working environment is as risk-free as possible. However, there is no legal requirement for employers to provide safer equipment to work from home based on these assessments.
For flexible working to be successful, the support available in the office needs to be accessible to those working remotely. This means that remote workers should be communicated with, and have access to the same support channels as employees in the office. If you aren’t able to provide these resources, then it’s unlikely that flexible working will have the same benefits it does for other businesses
In the UK, many employees can request flexible working hours when they need them, and employers decide whether or not they accept. Many employees will request flexibility when it becomes convenient for them to do so, such as when they have issues with childcare, or perhaps they have appointments they need to attend.
As it stands, this method technically only benefits the employee. This doesn’t mean that employees deliberately abuse flexible working, nor that they are less productive; however, it does mean that employers aren’t getting the benefit they would from a more forward-thinking, agile way of working. Agile incorporates flexibility, but in a different way. Instead of just letting staff change where they work, agile working allows employees to work from wherever they feel they perform best – whenever they want to. Success is measured by meeting goals and completing tasks, rather than how many hours a day you spend at a desk. For offices in the post-pandemic world, embracing this attitude to some extent will be needed to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.
While there are disadvantages to continuing with flexible working after lockdown, there are also numerous benefits if planned and executed properly. Whether you choose to adopt a more flexible approach to work is your decision; but undoubtedly, businesses will have to refresh their mindsets following the impact of COVID-19 on the modern workforce – and agility is key.
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