Flex should be for life, not just for Covid

A new report warns against ‘false flex’ and shows what works when employers want to fully embed flexibility into their workplaces.

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Covid-19 has seen a seismic shift in attitudes to flexible working, but how do we maintain that enthusiasm post-Covid when there will be a lot of pressure to return to the old ways and rebuild the economy?

A new report – ‘Forever Flex: Making Flexible Working Work Beyond a Crisis’ – from the Flex Appeal campaign shows how 1,420 employers used flexible working through Covid-19 and how to make flexible working work for decades to come. Unsurprisingly, it found remote working saw the biggest increase among different forms of flexible working, followed by compressed hours, flexitime, part time and job share.

There was little variation between sectors, but the survey showed size plays a part in attitudes to flex. Large businesses are adapting more than their medium and small counterparts. But small start-ups already had a lot of flex in place. Medium sized businesses were the least likely to say they want to keep working from home after Covid, but 64% said they wanted to.

While Covid and other major disruptions can accelerate change,  the report says other factors can change attitudes. They include a change of senior leadership, a change of workplace location, the need to cut costs and, for individuals, major personal events, such as childbirth.

It warns that many employers are actually in a state of ‘accidental flex’ due to the Covid crisis.  “Forced home working is not flex,” it says. Neither is working all hours to keep a business afloat. To get the main benefits of flex, including greater mental well being, employers need to learn from others who have been able to embed it.  Trust was a central feature and a willingness to relinquish control and try something new, whether people are senior managers, line managers or workers. Building trust involves airing and listening to people’s fears, says the report. But it states that serving up facts and statistics often won’t build the case for flex. Instead it favour small-scale experimentation, sharing stories of success, the more human and unexpected the better, involving everyone in the process and communicating plans at all levels as well as having senior leaders role model flex.

Then when it comes to implementation, clear communication and guidance which sets expectations are key. Also crucial is the language employers use to describe flexibility, framing it more as a means to an end so that it doesn’t seem such a massive shift, and ensuring flex is a two-way process. The report has a host of case studies of employers of all sizes. The overall aim is clear – that flexible working is not just an emergency response to a crisis, but needs to be properly embedded for all its benefits to be felt.

 

 



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