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Our spring 2021 UK Reward Management Survey highlighted how 84 per cent of employers expect flexible working options to be more readily available post-pandemic. Up significantly on the 52 per cent we saw in autumn 2020, it is clear the pandemic is set to have long and far reaching impact on the way we work.

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

The return to the workplace

With restrictions lifting and the ‘work from home if you can’ advice removed by the government, those employees who have been working from home until now are starting to return to the workplace. Anecdotal evidence from talking to customers has shown that many employers are taking a cautious approach to this move, by maintaining working bubbles and only requiring 1-2 days in the office initially. This is broadly in line with the data collected in our spring UK Reward Management Survey, which showed that the majority of respondents expected employees to be spending up to 60 per cent of their total weekly hours within the office by August (whilst just 13% anticipated employees to be working 100% of their hours within the office by August).

Looking ahead, expectations don’t alter much, with the majority expecting up to 40 per cent of the working week to be spent working from home, even at the end of 2021. As a result the working week may well be redefined for many organisations in the wake of coronavirus.

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. Therefore, employer flexibility during this period became crucial in 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 responding to our autumn survey listed flexible working as one of their top three most popular mental health and wellbeing initiatives, signalling 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 36 per cent looking to reduce the office space they currently hold. This will impact the hospitality industry, which will 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. With 76 per cent of employers increasing their focus on agile working, employees will 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 lockdown periods, many employers reported 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, employers also saw 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 help explain the reduced levels.

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 have 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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