Over the past eight weeks, I bet an awful lot of work has been completed by people wearing pyjamas. Good work. Work that would otherwise have taken place in offices, completed to the same standard and result, only by people with clean hair wearing uncomfortable corporate attire.
In industries where working from home is possible (that weren’t significantly impacted by the Covid crisis), even the most anti-flexible working bosses would likely have to admit that the lockdown didn’t cause quite the enormous drop in productivity they fretted about. In some cases, staff having the flexibility to work from home may even have improved their output.
Of course, working from home won’t work for every industry, company or employee, but the whole country being forced into a form of flexible working has delivered some interesting results. As one colleague of mine recently said to me, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to workplace flexibility. Employees have been given a taste of what working at home is like; its advantages and its pitfalls. It’s now time for workplaces to adapt.
While spending time in the office for a few days a week may be great for group communications, socialisation and team-building, some employees may now prefer to split their time between home and the workplace. And why not?
‘Why not?’ is the angle usually taken when discussing flexible working policies, but I’d like to turn the paradigm on its head. Instead, I’d like to ask why you should be in the office five days a week.
When you think about it, in this time of digital connectivity, the office is a strange construct. If you need to talk to Maia in marketing, rather than getting in the lift and going to find her, you can now fire up Slack or Teams to ask her your question. Ditto Rachel in IT and Indira in accounts. If someone needs to talk to you at 8:30am, they can call you. If you have to write a report, you can do so on your laptop. So why are you still expected to be chained to your desk from 8am-5pm?
Of course, there are some aspects of work life that are best suited to the office environments. Team meetings are likely easier in person, for some workers having young children at home may mean that it’s difficult to focus on work, and it’s helpful to have at least some face-to-face contact with your colleagues. Why, though, can’t team meetings be scheduled for once or twice a week when everyone needs to come into the office, and the rest of the time some kind of flexible working practice be implemented? If productivity and quality levels are the same in the office and at home, then why not give employees more control over how they structure their lives?
That’s a big if, however. If productivity and quality suffer, then flexibility needs to be reassessed. It creates a high trust environment, and if KPIs aren’t met, or work suffers in other ways, then it may be time to go back to the drawing board in the office. I imagine, however, that many employees would be excited to work, say, three or four days in the office and the rest of the week at home, and keen to retain the privilege.
These conversations are already taking place at a variety of workplaces, and I look forward to seeing the outcomes in a few months. As challenging as this Covid crisis has been (and will continue to be as the economic fallout continues in the coming months and years) hopefully on the other side there will be a few silver linings.Support Villainesse