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Flexible working expert Sarah Jackson talks to workingmums.co.uk about Jacob Rees-Mogg and others’ attempts to take a stand against hybrid and remote working and why it flies against all the evidence.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is a “fool” whose approach to getting people back to the office runs against all the evidence, according to a leading flexible working consultant.
The Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency has been campaigning to get civil servants back in the office and has reportedly received the backing of Number 10.
Sarah Jackson, former Chief Executive of Working Families and now a consultant on flexible working and gender at work, asked why, if the Government wants the best talent, “is it deliberately trying to make itself seem less attractive and competitive”, ignoring all the evidence from HR experts that more hybrid and remote working is what candidates want.
She added that the civil service has been a leader in flexible working and has evidence to show that it works. “Rees-Mogg doesn’t understand the treasure he has. The civil service has been at the leading edge of flexible working. Its departments are really good at it. What he is doing is counterproductive.” Civil Service Human Resources won workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working in 2018.
Jackson is on the board of three charities, including Parents and Carers in Performing Arts, is a visiting professor at Cranfield University School of Management and a consultant on flexible working and gender at work.
She says employers in every sector have been taking hybrid and remote working very seriously in recent years. However, some individual organisations are clinging on to old school ways of working, generally where their leadership is opposed to it.
For instance, many of the big employers were already doing hybrid working before the Covid pandemic hit. Jackson cites Lloyds Bank’s agile working policy as one example. While hybrid working is not new, the greater demand for it is, she states. However, she says that, while the corporates mainly get the benefits of different ways of working, she is seeing more resistance from senior leaders in smaller organisations. “What I am seeing is a pattern where the chief executive wants everyone back in the office,” she says, describing it as the ‘Rees Mogg model’. This is despite the fact that Covid is not over and that not having people in the office and commuting every day reduces exposure and potential absence. She adds that in these organisations, generally led by men, there is a kind of “grudging flexibility” with language such as ‘you can apply for x’, ‘ask your line manager’ or ‘all reasonable requests will be considered’. “It’s the kind of old-fashioned language that I thought we were moving away from,” she says.
She adds that she often sees a kind of inflexible flexibility. “Leaders know they need to come up with something on hybrid working and understand that there is staff demand so they want to create rules in order to stay in control, for instance, about the number of days people should be in the office. It’s often about old-fashioned leaders who don’t want to let go,” says Jackson.
On the other hand, some organisations are moving towards remote first models and she says these, in her experience, are more likely to be led by women. There she finds ‘reasonable anxiety’ about how this might affect team cohesion and collaboration.
“One approach is to make it like it was before but slightly grudgingly doing hybrid working with lots of rules around it. The other sees the well being, recruitment, retention and engagement benefits of hybrid and remote working. It starts from how work has been done during Covid and deals with the implications and hiccups along the way,” comments Jackson. “One is highly cautious and controlled and isn’t listening to what HR is saying; the other is really responsive to the changes brought about by Covid and the challenges of the Great Resignation and is alive to possibility.”
Jackson acknowledges that some of the nitty gritty issues related to hybrid and remote working still need to be ironed out, for instance, travel expenses for hybrid workers. She thinks people who work in a hybrid way and have a choice of whether to work at home or at the office should probably pay the cost of travel to work, particularly those who work for smaller employers who won’t be saving much on overheads and still have to cover the cost of an office space.
On whether employers should cut wages as a result of remote working, she thinks that, in general, people should be paid the same for doing their job regardless of where they live. “Where your people live should not be relevant to what you pay them,” she says. “Your pay should not change if you work from home and we should move from a situation where people are paid for their time to one where they are paid for their skills and output.”
She adds that employers should move to offering laptops and mobiles, if they don’t already, so people can work anywhere. She thinks many of these issues will need to be decided on a case by case basis based on mutual understanding, in much the same way as flexible working legislation has worked in the past. “Over the next three to five years things will shake themselves out,” she predicts. “Everyone will need to be open-minded, cooperative and helpful to each other as we explore the implications of no longer being tied to one place of work over the next years.”
When it comes to how Covid has impacted women’s careers, Jackson says the pandemic has highlighted the deep-rooted nature of traditional gender roles, with research showing clearly that women took on more of the caring responsibilities. It has also shown how important flexible working is in that respect. However, she says, it has also demonstrated that men have done more than they traditionally do at home and that many want to carry on taking on a greater share of those responsibilities. “It has been a reminder that men’s careers are privileged and that it is really important for employers who make more flexibility available, especially if it is outside core hours and off site, to monitor how it affects their career progress,” says Jackson, adding that that means tracking working patterns by gender and looking at performance grading and promotion.
She says employers who have brought in greater hybrid and remote working need to know what they want to measure now and start putting the monitoring process in place.
*More on Sarah’s work and how to contact her can be found here.