Reductions in commuting and more time are key draws of greater flexible working

A webinar yesterday heard the results of a big study of homeworking during lockdown, which recommended greater support for remote working and more flexible job options.

Woman in wheelchair working at laptop in kitchen


Reductions in commuting time are a big factor for working from home, according to a study which shows that the desire to work from home has increased by a higher percentage among non-parents than parents as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The results of the study by the Working from Home during Covid-19 Lockdown Project were presented during a webinar yesterday and showed demand for flexible working has increased during lockdown, with 66% of non-parents saying they would like more, compared to 52% of parents.

Dr Heejung Chung, Principal investigator of the Work Autonomy, Flexibility and Work Life balance Project at the University of Kent and one of the leaders of the study, said it found 36% of people said they had been more productive as a result of working from home during the pandemic, even though many parents, particularly women, had to work around childcare. This was in part because they had been able to get their work done more quickly and were more able to focus on priorities. Eighty per cent of women said they were doing more or much more home education than their partner and many were working into the evening to make up hours. However, fathers had increased the amount of childcare and housework they were doing.

There were positives and negatives to pandemic work life balance. Parents had more family time and fathers were more encouraged to seek flexible working, but more needed to be done to support dads and address mental health issues associated with working and looking after children. The researchers recommended, among other things, a day one right to flexible working, advertising all jobs as flexible, more support for remote working, particularly to address isolation and stress, reverse mentoring to promote intergenerational understanding, more financial support for dads who want to share parental leave, better internal communications about flexible working such as appointing flexible work champions who should include dads and mandatory publication of gender pay gap figures.

Clare Sandling, Head of the Gender Equality Policy Team at the Government Equalities Office, said the GEO was aware early on of the possibility that the pandemic would lead to backsliding on gender equality issues. It had formed an equality hub observatory which shared research on equalities issues across 20 government departments on a weekly basis.

Maxim Mukhin, People Experience Manager at Nationwide, spoke of the different forms of support the company had put in place to help homeworking employees, especially parents. They included certificates for children who had been good during lockdown, drop-in sessions for parents and a big focus on support for leaders of virtual teams. Nationwide has been working on reimagining the future of work and was refreshing its people strategy over the next five to 10 years. To do so, it was working with employees and employee networks to find out what they wanted the future of work to look like.  It was clear that employees did not want to go back to how things were before and preferred a hybrid model whereby they worked from home a few days a week and the rest was in the office.

Heejung Chung said the more employees worked flexibly the less stigma would be attached to flexible working. However, she said choice was very important, given homeworking did not suit everyone’s circumstances.

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