Want to improve remote and hybrid working? Ask the experts

Remote and hybrid working is not new so why can’t we learn from those who have been doing it for a while how it might work better?

mum who works at home


Remote and hybrid working is not a new phenomenon. But it is new on the scale we are seeing it now and it has forced employers to think more carefully about how they support it, although some seem still to be in denial about the change Covid has accelerated.

You’d think that there would be much to learn from the people who have done remote and hybrid learning over the years, often without that thinking and support. Because in many cases those who have worked in such ways have simply been left to make it work and have often bent over backwards to do so for fear of that flexibility being taken away. Many of these people have been working mums for whom a remote or hybrid set-up may be the difference between being able to do a particular job at a particular level, using all their knowledge and experience, and having to get the nearest local job available. The long-term impact is people working below their ability, which affects confidence, and a pathway towards a very unequal older age. The gender pension gap currently stands at 40%.

Yet these seasoned remote and hybrid workers are very rarely consulted about their experiences despite potentially offering a lot of useful information about how best to implement different ways of working. Our survey, published this week, looks at just this issue.

I’ve worked remotely or in a hybrid way for years.The first job I did where I worked part of the week from home turned into a fairly hostile environment. At one point my manager turned on me because, for operational reasons, he wanted to take away one of my days working from home, didn’t consult me and I didn’t just roll over and accept it because my daughter was four at the time and couldn’t go to after school club until she was five. When pushed, he said my work had been failing. I knew this to be untrue so I asked him to list how. In addition to one of the points stating that I said I was tired [I had once told him that my other daughter was teething and keeping me awake all night], he said that I could not answer my phone when I was at home. That is, my phone on my desk at work. My failing therefore was an inability to clone myself. However, had someone diverted the call to my home, told the person to email, given them my mobile number or any other permutation I would then have been able to answer the phone. So basically that experience was the opposite of supportive.

Other jobs have been a lot better. One started as an office-based job, but before Covid became more hybrid. I would just go in every other week or so and would line up meetings to make the best use of the time. It worked very well, but it was down to me to make it work. No-one asked me about it or what might make it better or whether, indeed, I wanted to change it. After the previous experience that seemed a very good thing to me. Yet was it? workingmums.co.uk was a remote only organisation when I started and has reverted to that during Covid. I have always worked from home, but going into town for meetings and regularly commuting for conferences and the like. That works very well because the childcare is not only expensive, but, where I live, not very flexible. It’s the nuts and bolts of it that matter and you don’t know about these if you don’t ask.

To fully support remote and hybrid workers as well as part-time working, shift working and other flexible patterns, it is not only work that needs to change. There also needs to be a genuine dialogue about the infrastructure needed to support it, from childcare to public transport. Too often it is left to workers to sort it out for themselves. Yet if flexible working is to be more normalised, it’s not enough to put all the onus onto individuals to make it work. Everything has to be rethought.

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