Working from home: fluke or a permanent feature?

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When historians look back on 2020 to define how exactly society changed, working from home will be at the heart of their analysis.

What was once reserved for a select few employees in progressive companies became mainstream almost overnight, thanks to COVID-19.

After the initial scramble – getting laptops out to workers; then getting over seeing your teammates in Kmart PJs – employees and employers alike found that they … kind of liked the new arrangements.

Now, in 2021, with vaccine delivery promising a return to normality and full-time, face time, everybody’s asking: do we have to go back to desk-bound 9-5?

Not necessarily, is the answer, according to DCA’s recent event, Working from home: the COVID-19 revolution.

Drawing on research from Professor Ruth McPhail’s whitepaper The Office Post COVID-19: People, Productivity and Planet, and featuring the experiences of leaders from law firm Gilbert + Tobin, as well as from the National Roads & Motorists' Association (NRMA), the consensus at DCA’s event was that working from home is likely to stick, and will remain critical in order to attract and retain the best minds post COVID-19.

But – ongoing success will be dependent on a few important caveats. And here is what DCA’s research on flexible working shows businesses and their people need to know in order to keep a good thing going - and maybe make it even better!

  1. Look at flexibility for the team, not as something just for individuals

DCA’s research has shown that a huge stumbling block for organisations implementing flexibility was that, too often, flexibility was only offered as an individual arrangement for individual employees. Flexible work arrangements would be ad-hoc and ‘bolted on’ and could create resentment in the team about who gets perceived ‘special treatment’.

The great working from home experiment changed that and demonstrated that it can actually work for all sorts of employees in all sorts of jobs.

But now that things are getting back to normal, if we want flexibility to stick we need to look at it from the team level, rather than the individual level.

This involves looking at components of all team members’ jobs, rather than just one individual employee’s circumstances. It means having employees and managers work together to come up with team-based flexibility solutions, rather than managers doing this in isolation or with just one employee. DCA’s Future-Flex guidelines go through this process.

  1. Challenge assumptions about what it means to be a flexible worker

Negative stereotypes about flexible workers not being as committed, or being lazy, have long held workers (particularly women) back. But seeing your boss managing kids during a business meeting, and knowing that they are still getting the work done like we all are, has helped to shift that mindset. 

So too has the continued delivery of work and deadlines during the forced work from home experiment.

If we want flexibility to be more than just a trend of 2020, we need to address these stereotypes and maybe even change the way we do some of the things we are used to doing. Such as releasing the rigid 9-5 ‘bums on seats’ structure; plus, focusing on outcomes and what work is produced, rather than how many hours are clocked, and where the work is produced.

  1. Use Flexibility as a Business Tool

Workplace flexibility is often viewed narrowly as just a human resource management policy, which helps employees reduce their work-life conflict. Yet this view misses the mountain of evidence showing that workplace flexibility is actually a powerful business tool which maximises the performance and wellbeing of organisations, teams, and individuals.

We know from our research that workplace flexibility is a key tool for meeting business goals in areas such as customer service, growth and efficiency. Internally, employees in flexible environments report seeing themselves as advocates, not just workers, for their organisation. Retention rates increase, and the ability to attract talent is much enhanced.  

  1. Expand your definition of flexibility - it is much more than just working from home

COVID-19 meant a lot of people suddenly had to work from home. But working from home is just one type of flexibility. Really it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Flexible work can mean a myriad of things: like a hybrid combination of working from home and face time. It can mean varying start and finish times, compressed work weeks and care-giving leave (for parental leave, caring for ill family members and so on). It can mean cultural leave, telecommuting, activity-based working, and flexible scheduling.

All these types of flexible work should be accessed formally or informally, be available for a variety of reasons, and be accessed by all demographic groups across all types of jobs and at all levels.

Understanding flexibility beyond just working from home also helps address the emerging workplace divide between frontline, client-facing staff and employees who can work remotely from their laptop. In the novelty of working from home going mainstream, it’s been easy to forget that not everyone has had the luxury of doing this. Embracing a wider definition of flexible work means those who cannot work remotely also have additional options in the post COVID-19 world of work.

COVID-19 changed the manner of work for a lot of people. We can build on the positive elements of the working from home revolution by taking a wider, more encompassing approach, as outlined in DCA’s Future-Flex report.

 

Tell us how working from home is working for you. And share your processes so fellow D&I practitioners can learn on our new, members-only D&I Practitioner Community on LinkedIn.

Also check other resources on flexible working: COVID-19 flexibility inclusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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