‘More flexible working in the wake of Covid, but much is informal’

A new report by the Equal Parenting Project finds evidence of positive changes on flexible working, although much of it is being done informally.

Woman works on laptop in cafe


Working from home and flexible working have become much more widespread during the pandemic, but most pandemic-related flexible working is being done informally, according to a new study by The University of Birmingham Equal Parenting Project.

The Managing employees during Covid-19 report, based on research undertaken in summer 2021, says that approximately half of all UK employees worked from home at least some of the time during the initial UK wide lockdown, compared to only one in six employees working from home at least several times a month in 2015.

However, it says most workers are currently working flexibly on an informal basis, with over 50% of managers reporting the majority of employees were working from home informally with no formal application made to the organisation.

The researchers believe this suggests that employees are being allowed to work flexibly without having to make formal requests but does not provide certainty regarding future practices.

Senior managers were the most positive about Covid-19 working, with 67.1% of senior managers reporting feeling active and vigorous during the pandemic and only 51.1% of line managers reporting feeling this way.

Most managers have been positive about flexible working since Covid-19 in terms of productivity and other benefits and are now less likely to encourage long hours working and presenteeism.

The report also found that flexible workers are now more likely to get promoted, with 57.4% of managers surveyed reporting that flexible workers in their organisations were just as likely to be promoted as their peers, an increase since 2020.

Managers and organisations says they intend to support more flexible working in the future. 65% of managers reported their organisations as being more supportive of flexible working requests. The report says more senior jobs are being made available as working from home (46.9%), part-time (26.5%) and as job share (23.9%).

Managers are also more likely to ask to work part time in the future, with 18.2% reporting they are likely to apply to work part time.

Other findings include:

  • Many organisations are continuing to provide extra support for those working from home, such as a computer or laptop (75%), access to online meeting software (61.2%) or headphones for computers (44.5%).
  • Nearly half of managers (46%) reported receiving training or advice to help them support employees who need to balance work and caring responsibilities, with 85.7% of managers reporting that they feel confident in responding to the needs of employees with caring responsibilities.
  • Organisations are beginning to support fathers to take on more caregiving responsibilities, with 43.4% of managers believing their organisation provides support to do this.
  • 26.5% of managers reported the use of surveillance and monitoring software.
  • 59% of managers reported that they are expecting employees to be in the office fewer than five days a week.

The researchers say: “If these changing attitudes are harnessed appropriately there is a once in a generation opportunity to create more inclusive workplaces and help tackle gender inequality. However, the current situation is only found in some areas of the economy and is precarious with flexible working overwhelmingly linked to Covid-19 and based on informal work practices agreed with individual managers. It cannot be assumed that these new attitudes and practices will continue when Covid-19 subsides, without a concerted effort from a broad range of stakeholders.”

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