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Our autumn 2020 UK Reward Management Survey highlighted how 80 per cent of employers have offered flexible working options to support employees juggling home life and remote working. 94 per cent offered working from home in response to the pandemic, lockdown and stopping the spread of the virus.

Here we examine what precedent will be set by the biggest experiment in working from home over the pandemic.

The return to the office

86 per cent of respondents continue to encourage home working through the winter months. Whilst only one in five think that home working will become the norm, 52 per cent expect that they will make flexible working more readily available as a result of this year. 70 per cent are operating a booking system to limit capacity and uphold health and safety measures to minimise close contact in the office.

With many employees not expected to return to the office until August 2021, the working week may well be redefined for many organisations in the wake of coronavirus. To date, the biggest proportion, one quarter of respondents, reported that between one to five per cent of employees had returned to the office. Despite government encouragement in the summer to get workers back to the office to support surrounding services such as cafes and shops, levels once again decreased amid talk of a second lockdown or circuit-breaker in October.

In our view, there are five key benefits for upholding flexible working:

1. The effect on mental health and wellbeing

The most widespread experiment in working from home in history has been done under enormous pressure and in the most challenging circumstances. Interruptions by children and family pets on video calls when schools were shut became commonplace, particularly over the first lockdown. Therefore, employer flexibility during this period has been crucial to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees under enormous stress.

The flip side of the ability to work completely remotely in some industries is the effect on employee mental health. Some employers feel that they must strike the right balance in offering a healthy work-life balance, which means very different things to different people. 87 per cent of employers listed flexible working as one of their top three most popular mental health and wellbeing initiatives, signaling the importance of accommodating employees’ multiple commitments and priorities.

2. Reduced operational costs

There is also the cost saving benefit of not needing as much real estate as an employer, with 14 per cent looking to reduce the office space they currently hold. This does raise challenges for the hospitality industry, as 86% currently plan to keep working from home and 79% will offer flexible working hours going forward, which may see reduced footfall for shops and cafes in areas densely populated with office space. This must be balanced against those who are keen to return to the office, albeit in reduced frequency, because of the psychological attachment that some people report with their workspace.

3. Increased efficiency

Between two and three days working in the office looks set to be the norm for office workers who question why they would be needed in the office when they can arguably be more efficient with their time working from home. It not only saves time on the commute, but harnessing technology for meetings has meant that travelling between appointments is reduced, freeing up valuable time for employees to manage their workload. Only 26 per cent think that they will return to employees working 100 per cent of their hours within the office by August 2021. This enables employees to have more control over their hours and how they work, giving them more autonomy over their role.

4. Strengthening the employer and employee relationship

Trust has been a key barrier in numerous organisations to meaningful offers to staff to work from home, with the risk that presenteeism pressure is felt more acutely by employees. Whilst many voiced concerns that productivity would go down over the two lockdowns we have now had, many employers are reporting that productivity levels actually increased. With a proven track record of remote working and the effect on the business, many employers who did not offer working from home before have now been converted to the idea. In addition, with more control over working hours and conditions, there has also been a decline in absences. The ability to work from home when slightly under the weather, but not having to drag themselves into the office may explain the reduced levels and the fact that two thirds have not, and do not intend to, review their sickness policies in light of 2020.

5. Employee expectations

Remote working has set the tone and created an expectation for those who have shown they can do their work from home that they should be allowed to continue to do so. In many cases, it is key for driving engagement and efficiency. Better work/life balances are arguably being achieved with that in-built flexibility that can support long-term employee wellbeing and drive greater employee engagement. There are also wider advantages to an organisation’s employee value proposition, as companies with a flexible culture can attract a more diverse talent pool, for example working mothers who feel there is more scope to balance various commitments.

Get in touch

Call us today to discuss how you will approach flexible working beyond the foreseeable future and the greater benefits this could offer to strengthen both the employer and employee relationship.

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