It is no surprise to hear that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rates of remote working went up immeasurably. The fact that it was dangerous for people to head into the office for their usual nine to five, put a big pressure on people to create a working environment at home.
This was easier for some than it was for others. Some people relished the opportunity to work from home, favouring their dining room table over their desk in the office or rolling out of bed instead of an hour and a half commute. Others however struggled, the division between home and work life simply couldn’t exist in an environment where both are fighting to be your top priority.
However, as time went on and the lockdowns showed no signs of ending. People adapted, creating home offices that allowed them to create a work life balance in the one place. Although for some this is still just a temporary set-up, others have found a sense of relief and freedom in the lack of commute and restrictions of an office.
Employers have been able to keep up with these adjustments and some even going further, realising that if employees are going to be working from home there is no real reason to have them working at specific times. Flexible working has been an option in lots of workplaces for years and have been a right since the 1996 “Employment rights act” which has since been updated to give every worker the right to request flexible working, with a new consultation in place to potentially allow flexible working from day one of a new job. This has been a staple in companies such as Dell, who have supported their employees who prefer to work outside of conventional working hours since they enforced their flexible working practices in 2009(1) The head of global human resources at Dell says about their flexible working culture “Work is what you do, not a place you go. Our value preposition is clear and simple: To enable our team members to do their best work regardless of where and when.” which is a very important message to employers.(2)
Flexible working is very important for employees in any role as it allows them to be more autonomous and therefore alleviates much of the stress that comes with remote working. This has huge mental health benefits, including reducing burnout and improving work life balance. A 2015 Sage Journal (3) study discovered a correlation between reduced working hours and improved sleep and memory. This also creates a better work life balance and can allow employees to attend appointments to benefit their physical and mental health. There are also huge environmental benefits such as reduced carbon emissions from commuters and less energy used by large scale offices. Among these benefits, flexible working also has positive implications for communities by allowing more spending to occur on the high streets of commuter towns and other smaller settlements.
Now that we are getting glimpses as to what life will look like post-pandemic (although we are still not out of the woods just yet) we must look to the silver linings in those dark clouds of the last 2 years. We have found a more sustainable and freeing way of working that allows for employees to shoulder more responsibility and autonomy, whilst reducing stress levels and burnout. Whilst productivity in the UK has dropped during the pandemic (the UK output of each worker was on average 2.7% below pre pandemic levels - according to a Labour Force survey) (4) Allowing workers to experiment with the way they work, and to find a way that works for them is the key to unlocking the full potential for all employees and bringing us into a bright new era of productivity.